Here’s how Harry Potter first learned that his destiny was coupled with that of the evil Lord Voldemort. It’s back in the first volume, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Hagrid suddenly pulled out a very dirty, spotted handkerchief and blew his nose with a sound like a foghorn.
“Sorry,” he said. “But it’s that sad—knew yer mum an’ dad, an’ nicer people yeh couldn’t find—anyway…
“You-Know-Who killed ‘em. An’ then—an’ this is the myst’ry of the thing—he tried to kill you, too. Wanted ter make clean job of it. Never wondered how you got that mark on your forehead? That was no ordinary cut. That’s what yeh get when a powerful evil curse touches yeh—took care of yer mum an’ dad an’ yer house, even—but it didn’t work on you, an’ that’s why yer famous, Harry. No one ever lived after he decided ter kill’em, no one except you, an’ he’d killed some o’ the best witches an’ wizards of the age—the McKinnons, the Bones, the Prewetts—an’ you was only a baby an’ you lived” (55-56).
Now turn to another scene of destiny, the baptism of Jesus. Here there is one certainly and one great question. The certainty is that Jesus was indeed baptized by John. Scholars don’t doubt this point, for the simple reason that it was a very inconvenient fact for the evangelists to record. Why? Because, when the gospels were composed, there were those who argued that John, and not Jesus, had been the Messiah. So acknowledging the event immediately begged the question that Saint Matthew puts on the very lips of John, why was the master baptized by the disciple?
John tried to prevent him, saying,
“I need to be baptized by you,
and yet you are coming to me?”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us
to fulfill all righteousness.”
Then he allowed him (3: 14-15).
What was in the mind of Jesus? That’s the great question about the baptism, and we should admit immediately that we don’t know. The inspiration given to the evangelists didn’t cover the consciousness of Jesus, and, as with all history, sacred and profane, there’s no reason that it should. We know the mind of Julius Caesar the same way we know that of anyone else, by his actions.
Yet entry into Christ’s mind does have two fixed portals: he couldn’t have known everything about the future and he must have known something.
Why shouldn’t Christ know everything about the future? For example, the final score of Super Bowl 2014? The answer comes from philosophy rather than history. To live a human life is to live with uncertainty. Knowing everything about the future would be akin to watching the same movie over and over again, hoping for a different outcome. The story isn’t going to change, because it’s fixed, predetermined. This is why most theologians would argue that the consciousness of Christ included the hesitancy of being human. The entry of God into human life involved, as Saint Paul would put it, a kenosis, an emptying (Phil 2:7).
And why must Christ have known something about his destiny? Again, the answer lies within our own humanity. The salvation wrought by Christ, the sacrifice he made, had to be freely chosen. There’s no moral achievement without freedom. One can’t choose what one doesn’t know. Harry Potter is the hero of his tale, because he sees, to some extent, the horror that advances and yet he perseveres.
At some point in his life, Christ chose his destiny as suffering Messiah. We don’t know when, but the evangelists appear to link the insight, and the decision, to the baptism.
After Jesus was baptized,
he came up from the water and behold,
the heavens were opened for him,
and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove
and coming upon him.
And a voice came from the heavens, saying,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3: 16-17).
The baptism is the beginning of Christ’s public ministry, what one might call the point of no return for him. John was preaching preparation for an apocalyptic entry of God into history. It appears that, in accepting baptism, Jesus identified himself with this very initiative of God. Certainly that’s the moment when he left any other possible life behind.
Did Jesus know all that future would hold? Assuredly not. Did he at least see the shadow of the coming sacrifice? Most certainly, yes. And that’s how it is with us. In God’s mercy our tomorrows aren’t recounted to us in advance. Who could withstand the force of the telling? And yet, by the grace of God, we do come to learn what heaven asks of us, and we determine our response.
That’s why the evangelists present Christ’s baptism as a template for our own. The promise was made before the particulars were known. Facing the future in fidelity to a baptismal vow is the very figure and form of our salvation. Just as it was with Jesus, we don’t know the details of what will be demanded, yet there is no doubt about who will do the asking.
Isaiah 42: 1-4, 6-7 Acts 10: 34-38 Matthew 3: 13-17