Consenting To Life – A Sermon On Matthew 3:13-17

By I, Davezelenka, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

The First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A: The Baptism of our Lord – Matthew 3:13-17


When my younger son, Randy, was about four years old he came home one afternoon and told me about his day. It had been a difficult one. Something had happened. Things had not gone like he wanted. I don’t remember what happened but whatever it was, it messed up his day. 

I listened as he told me all about it. And when he finished I asked what he did. “Oh,” he said, “I just dealed with it.”

“I just dealed with it.” There’s wisdom in what he said, and it applies to any age. I’ve held on to those words for the last twenty-six years. They remind me that whether we are four years old, forty, or ninety-five, we all have situations asking to be “dealed with.” Here’s what I mean by that. 

Have you ever had days when life caught you off guard and took you completely by surprise? Has life ever given you what you could neither plan for nor foresee, something unexpected? Have you ever had your plans disrupted? When have you felt like more was being asked of you than you had to give? You didn’t feel up to it or didn’t feel like you were enough. Has life ever left you feeling confused and lost? It just didn’t make sense. Have you ever had a situation you wanted to say no to, something you didn’t want to do or have to deal with? 

We all have those kind of stories. There’s not a one of us here that has escaped that. I think that’s exactly where John the Baptist is in today’s gospel (Matthew 3:13-17).

By I, Davezelenka, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Jesus has come “from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him” (Matthew 3:13). It’s something John never expected or foresaw. He didn’t plan on this. “I need to be baptized by you,” he says to Jesus, “and do you come to me” (Matthew 3:14)? Baptizing Jesus does not fit John’s expectations of who Jesus is and what he will do. What about the ax, the winnowing fork, the unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:10-12)? The order and structure of John’s world are being turned upside down. Jesus is the “more powerful” one and John is “not worthy to carry his sandals” (Matthew 3:11). Jesus is supposed to increase and John decrease (John 3:30).

Everything about this moment is contrary to what John believes, wants, and expects. And we’ve all be there. We know what that’s like. When has that happened to you? And what do you do when it happens?

What do you do when your prayer is not answered, the budget doesn’t work out, expectations are not met? What do you do when your plan doesn’t come together, a relationship ends, or life is interrupted? What do you do when it’s a hard day and you just want to say no and run away? 

Today’s gospel sets before us two choices. We can either resist, forbid, and try to prevent what is coming to us, which is what John wants to do. Or we can permit it and “let it be,” which is what Jesus tells John to do. 

“Let it be so now,” Jesus says to John. “Then he consented.” What if that’s to be our way too? What if Jesus is saying to us, “Let it be so now?” What if we too are being asked to consent?

The consent to which Jesus calls us isn’t simply about giving up, acquiescing, approving, or agreeing. It’s about a way of life. It’s about Jesus’ way of life. It doesn’t mean we have to like or want what is happening. It does, however, mean that we face it and deal with it. 

Consent means we show up to our life and be present to whatever is before us and whatever is coming to us, even if it is difficult, painful, or the last thing we wanted. Consent isn’t about being in control or having all the answers. It means we don’t turn back or run away from what is in front of us. We don’t have to do everything that is set before us but neither can we resist doing what is ours (Pirkei Avot 2:16).

Consent doesn’t mean passively accepting whatever happens. It means actively giving ourselves to the circumstances, relationships, and people before us. It’s an act of risk and vulnerability. And it’s a profession of faith, hope, and love. It means staying open and remaining receptive to whatever in that moment is being asked of us in the name of God. 

That’s how Jesus lived his life. His life was a continual yes to the world, to you, and to me. He lived a life of consent. 

  • He consented to bring good news to the poor;
  • He consented to welcome the outsider and foreigner; 
  • He consented to hospitality for the hungry and thirsty;
  • He consented to forgiveness for the women caught in adultery;
  • He consented to raise stinky Lazarus into the fragrance of new life;
  • He consented to intimacy when Mary anointed and kissed his feet; 
  • He consented to compassion and healing for the blind, deaf, and lame;
  • He consented to abundance when the wine ran out;
  • He consented to be a servant of all and wash dirty feet; 
  • He consented to peace and nonviolence in a world of swords;
  • He consented to speak truth to power;  
  • He consented to struggle with God and himself in the Garden of Gethsemane; 
  • He consented to courage and perseverance as he took up and carried his cross;
  • He consented to reconcile with Peter after being denied by him three times; 
  • He consented to humility when soldiers mocked and beat him;
  • He consented to life in the face of death.

Jesus never turned away, backed down, or withheld his consent. He was present and showed up to whoever or whatever was before him. Every time Jesus consented he stepped into the river of humanity and immersed himself in the waters of your life and my life.

Consent is an act of solidarity, a standing with another. Jesus asked John to stand with him. Jesus stands with us. And he asks to stand with him in the river of humanity. 

That’s how I want to live. I want to be a continual yes to the world and others. I want live a life of consent. Don’t you? I want to look back on my life and say, “I just dealed with it.”

What would that look like for you today? What would it mean for you to give consent to the people and circumstances before you? It might be in your marriage or parenting, at work, caring for another, speaking out and acting for justice, being present to another, working on your recovery, healing a relationship, or setting out in a new direction. 

The opportunities for consent come to us every day. Maybe you’re being asked to consent to love, forgiveness, peace, compassion, welcome, courage, hope, beauty. What is being asked of you today?

Every time we consent we wade into the deep waters of life. We stand with Jesus in the river of humanity and together we fulfill all righteousness – nothing gets left undone and no one gets left out. 

“Let it be so now.”


  1. Your sermons are contemplative yet deal with everyday human relationships — both the suffering and the joys. I have been using many of your ideas in the jails of Los Angeles on Sunday as I serve as a lay chaplain and Eucharistic minister for the Episcopal PRISM ministry. Much gratitude for your leadership.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Barbara: I am so glad to know that you have been using the sermons in your jail ministry. Thank you for reading my blog and for your encouraging words. May God bless you, your ministry, and those to whom you minister.

      Peace be with you.


  2. Always great insight on the scripture of the day but I am confused by the use of the word, “righteousness” It is used so often in Scripture, both as a negative and a positive. How would you define righteousness?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Cindy. It’s a good question. I tend to think of righteousness as justice, justness, that which is just. The Greek word that is translated as righteousness can also be translated as justice. I think righteousness often has some legalistic or moralistic baggage. But it’s really, as I think about it, concerning a relationship – our relationship with God and with each other. In this text I think Jesus is telling John not only is this is the right and just thing to do, this is how we be in relationship. It’s the solidarity and standing with each other I mentioned at the end of the sermon – leaving nothing undone and no one out.

      God’s peace be with you.


      1. Thank you for that clarification. So, when it is used in a negative context, as self- righteous for example, does that imply a self-centered individual who has no concern for his neighbor?


        1. Cindy, I think self-centeredness can be a part of being self-righteous. I also think it is the way in which we judge or view ourselves as superior or more right than others. It is an unwillingness or inability to be honestly self-reflective, to learn or grow. I also think it is a way of being closed rather than open to others.

          I hope you are well. God’s peace be with you.


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