One source of John’s baptism (and ultimately Christian baptism) is the ritual washing practice of ancient Judaism. Like any ritual, these washings could become rote and thoughtless. Thus Old Testament prophets warned the people not to forget the moral and ethical implications of life with a holy and pure God. One example is Isaiah 1:16-17 which says, “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, love to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”
John stands in this prophetic tradition of connecting washing to action. He urged those who had extra to share with those who did not have enough. He told tax collectors, who would sometimes pad the bills for their own benefit, to collect no more than the amount prescribed. He told soldiers, who had a reputation of threatening people with violence in order to extort money, to be satisfied with their wages. (See Luke 3:10-14)
John baptized people in the Jordan River so that they might be closer to God. For John, being in God’s presence also means living in a way in which all have financial security. John’s example energizes us to work for a world in which everyone has what they need.
Dear God, you have blessed this world with bountiful resources. Teach us to share that bounty with one another. Empower us through the Spirit to follow your Son’s example of service to others. Amen.