God in the Water, an imagination for recapitulation in the wild

 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too.  (Luke 3.21 NIV)

When “Up” came out I took Jed, who was nine, to see the movie.   I assumed since it was a kids animation feature, that it would speak his language to his world and keep me as an adult entertained with a few jokes.   We settled in, Jed has this ritual discipline thingy where he stashes his M&Ms and hotdog in one cup holder and the drink in the other cup holder and resists all impulses to eat until the main feature begins.  Once the theatre goes dark you can hear his wrappers opening up.   His wrappers had barely come off the goodies, about minute 3:21 when I experienced a huge lump in my throat, and from 3:21-3:55 I fought long and hard to just keep it a lump; I don't have a handsome cry.  At 3:57 I started crying.  I became very self-conscious. 

Jed stopped eating and put his hand on my arm and asked, “Dad, What’s so sad?”

I realized that he didn't have enough experiences and history to identify with the characters.  He didn't feel, as a 9-year-old, that they were telling his story, they were just telling a story.   Pixar, in those 4 short undialogued minutes, had told my story or at least the story I felt like I was living.  Carl Fredrickson was me, full of dreams and visions and hopes but constantly struggling under the tyranny of the urgent, and the dreams were drifting further away the older I got.

If you haven't seen the first four minutes, you really should reward yourself with a peak.  Go ahead and click the link.

It’s a fascinating thing how one story can capture the heart, struggle, and soul of the human condition.   Adam-and-Eve is the quintessential such story.  Their story is really the story of all humanity.   They capitulate in 45 verses the sum total of the human experience.  Their story is our story from earthy birth to dusty death, from nakedness to shamefulness, from fear and hiding to blame and shifting, from blessing to cursing, from seeking worth-in-work to seeking approval-in-relationships.  Adam-and-Eve is the archetype of humanity, the stand in for all of us.  

What they did, we do.  Over and over.

They are the sad capitulation of the distrust and antagonism between humanity and God, the paradigmatic summary of human conflict.    In antiquity a single character in a story frequently served as 'representative figure'  for a whole group of people.  Paul has this in mind when he says, “For as in Adam all die.” (1 Cor 15.22)  This story of Adam’s death is the story the human.

As Adam went so we go; a story ending in an exiled death, toiling away under cursed ground and a snakebit creation and relational tensions.  The human needed another story, another archetype, something that could sum up all of the human story, but carry it on to a glorious and redemptive victory.

And this is how Paul articulates just exactly why-Jesus-was and how-Jesus-is.  There is a was-ness to Jesus and an is-ness to Jesus.   The converging on the Damascus Road was Paul's encounter with the is-ness of Jesus Christ.   Paul is blinded against the backdrop of a Yahwistic reality in which God, a verb, literally the “I Am,” shock-drop discloses that the people of “the Way” were now Jesus. 

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting!”

  It was a theological light-bulb moment that would take thirteen books for Paul to unpack: Jesus had become the new human story.   In the face of becoming the scandalous heretic of his denomination (Pharisees) Paul shocks the theological world (pagan and orthodox) by decoding the “mystery” behind what few Christians today even grasp let alone live out: we are the is-ness of Jesus

  • The first Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 1 Cor15.45
  • "[God's purpose is, in] the fullness of the times, to recapitulate all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth..." Eph 1.10, PT
  • And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. Eph 1.22
  •  For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness.  Col 2:9-10
  • Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! ... who reconciled us to himself through Christ... that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.  2Cor 5.17-19
  • In Christ.”  164 times Paul uses this phrase to express how Adam's story is no longer our defining story, but Christ's story is ours.

Adam capitulates the human story
Jesus recapitulates the human story.

Israel capitulates the societal story
Jesus recapitulates the societal story.

Irenaeus called this notion of the Last Adam, Jesus retelling the whole human story in himself and offering humanity a better story than Adam, recapitulation.  

I love this quote from Irenaeus, "He became what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself."  

This is what Luke is driving at when he says, "And when all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too."  (The image I have here is my son saying, "But dad all the LaCrosse guys are wearing the Under Armour Highlight MC Clutchfit Cleat." And since they are his team, and he wants to identify with them, he gets the UA Cleats too.).

 Jesus steps into the water with the people.  God in the water, participating in the human drama, doing what people do.  It’s beautiful.  Jesus wasn't leading others into the waters; he was following them into the water.  God is one of us. 

And why?  Because he is going to recapitulate the sum total of the human story.  He is going to be the last Adam.   The final human archetype.  He will face temptation, face the serpent, face human conflict, face death, face all the human story can throw at him and in a final recapitulation will subvert the human story with a shocking, glorious twist.

In Jesus Christ there is no isolation of man from God or of God from man. Rather, in Him we encounter the history, the dialogue, in which God and man meet together and are together, the reality of the conventant mutually contracted, preserved and fulfilled by them. He comes forward to man on behalf of God, and to God on behalf of man. He is in his person the Kingdom of Heaven, which is at hand.
— Karl Barth

In this sense Jesus has offered his body and life as an avatar for you to enter into and receive the full rights, blessings, and privileges of him as the Beloved.  John 17 gets at this idea with Jesus’ prayer, “ I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity."

Back in January my mentor said to me, “The reason one does not function in the full authority and power of the kingdom is because she or he does not see God as her or his Father-King.”  It struck a cord.  The next Sunday morning I engaged in some centering prayer using the word, “Father-King.”   For the first 15 minutes, it was empty, my mind wandered through a litter zone of distractions.  I got frustrated with myself.  Candidly, I just didn't see myself as a prince.  I didn't trust that to be my truth.  I could believe that of Jesus but not of me.

As I stilled my soul a vivid memory emerged of a Sunday Communion service in 2006.  I was declaring the gift of salvation, how free and how receivable salvation was.  I ripped a piece of bread from the communion loaf and walked down the left aisle saying, “Salvation is as easy as a drink of juice, as easy as swallowing a piece of bread.”  As I said that the room went into slow-motion, r e a l   s l o w.  I stood outside of me watching me.  My attention was drawn to my hand where I saw Jesus’ right hand enter, I had the sensation that his hand was stretching through my body into my right arm and I watched with euphoric joy as he held out the piece of bread to a visitor.   She immediately took it.  And ate it.  And the moment was over and I continued preaching.

After the service she approached me wondering if what she did was 'ok' since she was Buddhist.  She explained her reasoning by how in that moment she felt as if Jesus himself was offering her the bread and that she couldn't refuse.  I stood there stumped, not really having a theology for what had happened.

Back to my prayer.  As I sat in that space it seemed as though Jesus was inviting me to imagine him in me, him recapitulating my story, entering into me and taking over the prayer.  As I said, “Father King!” I stepped outside of myself and watched Jesus take my voice, my heart, my prayer, my moment and my insecurity.   I saw the Father's joy, heard the lovely tones "this is my son, my beloved, with him I am well pleased,"  And in that moment I knew what it meant to pray, “in Jesus’ name.”


  • Conversation.  Have a conversation with Cleopas about a film that you have seen that you felt was telling your story.  What parts of Jesus' story do you trust are retelling your story?
  • Reflection.   Reflect on what your life, where have you sensed Christ at work in you?
  • Prayer.  Pray Luke 3.21-22 using the tools of lectio divina