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Toshiki Toma

“Shogun” and Jesus

18. febrúar 2018

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. -Amen.

Today’s Gospel is about Jesus’ baptism; it’s not about Jesus giving the baptism but about Jesus himself being baptized. This happened before Jesus began to teach about the salvation of God our Father among the people.

After the baptism, Jesus went into the wilderness and went trough the temptations by the Devil. And then he began to proclaim the Gospel. So this episode of Jesus’ baptism is in the very beginning of his public life as the Messiah.

But wait a moment. Jesus is the Son of God. He doesn’t have any sin to be purified. Then why was he baptized at all? Today, in our church, there are two main answers to that question; why Jesus had to be baptized?

The first answer is that Jesus wanted to emphasize the importance of baptism in general. The second answer is that being baptized was a part of the larger plan of God’s saving act for all his people - all of us.

I myself do more agree to the later answer, namely that Jesus’ baptism was a part of God’s plan of salvation. But still something is not really clear about that answer and I would like to think a bit more about the meaning of the baptism of Jesus.

But let me talk about something else first. You know what„samurai“ is? It’s warrior in old days in Japan. Tokugawa Shogunate governed Japan for 265 years between the 17th century and the 19th century. The Shogunate was a form of the government and its top was shogun, the chief of samurai warriors.

Among 15 shogun-s of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the 8th shogun, Yoshimune, is very popular one and there are many novels and movies about him today. And one of the TV series about Yoshimune “The Rowdy Shogun” has been really popular and it lasted for about 30 years in the broadcasting.

Stories in this TV series were a complete fiction and not historical truth. But it’s a story that we Japanese love. The setting is like this; Yoshimune goes to the town of Edo (Tokyo) as an average samurai in the lowest class, hiding that he is the shogun. He has lots of friends among the common people, but nobody knows his real identity.

And he hears from the people about how they feel in every day life or sometimes about the criminal activities and oppression, that are often connected to dirty officers or bosses in the Shogunate. Then Yoshimune gets angry and confronts the bad guys, trying to reveal their crimes.

Every time, the bad guys think that Yoshimune is just one of the common people and make fun of him and even try to kill him. But at last Yoshimune identifies himself as shogun and judges them.

Every time, the same pattern of story is repeated and the story itself is unrealistic. Nevertheless, Japanese people love this show very much, as you can tell from the fact that it has lasted for 30 years. We like the idea that someone in high position with much power comes to us, common people, and understands us and helps us.

Also, we love this TV show because we like the pattern of the stories, first the bad guys make fun of Yoshimune who is pretending to be one of the lowest ranked samurais, and at last Yoshimune reveals his honor and power as shogun in front of the bad guys.

And here is the point I want to tell you. In this TV shows, Yoshimune is pretending to be an average guy in the town, but he is not. He is the shogun, the chief of the all samurai warriors. He is not abandoning his honor and power as shogun. He uses them when he needs them.

On the other hand, Jesus is Son of God, with almighty power and glory in Heaven. But he did not consider it as something for his own advantage and chose to be born as a human person in order to come to us, common people. And Jesus was not pretending to be a man, but he became a human person really. This is important point and Jesus’ baptism is putting a big emphasis on this importance.

It was not enough for Jesus to be born as a human person on the earth. Hewanted to be baptized in order really to join the crowd of sinners. He exactly followed the things that God our Father prepared for us, sinners. This was the right thing to do for Jesus at that time: “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”(Mt. 3:15)

Thus Jesus really became a human person. And therefore, he could understand our human weaknesses, pains, disappearance, grief or fear. If Jesus had been just pretending to be a man, he would not have understood those human weaknesses or feelings. He would not have had any fear of death when he was put on the cross. But he did feel the fear, because he was 100% a human person.

Jesus kept his divinity as Son of God, but unlikely Yoshimune who uses his power as the shogun according to his need, Jesus did not use his power as the Son of God except in order to provide us forgiveness of sins, namely to make us reconcile with God our Father.

Jesus used his privilege as the Son of God only for this purpose, and the way how he used his privilege was to be the great sacrifice on the cross for us and to resurrect from the dead to beat the doom of death.

Otherwise Jesus did not use his power as the Son of God. He didn’t call the army of Heaven when he was arrested at the garden of Gethsemane. He didn’t use his super natural power to humiliate the arrogant religious leaders whom he met. He didn’t reveal his shining glory in front of the common people to appeal his divinity at anyway during his journey.

Jesus didn’t show his power and honor in the way that Yoshimune does in the drama, namely in the way anyone cannot resist the power and everyone has no other choice than to bow down in front of his authority as the shogun.

But Jesus didn’t show off his divinity in that way. Instead, Jesus gave us, and still is giving us, the opportunity to believe in him. He is leaving the final step in front of us, if we bow down under his name and worship his glory; or we turn our back to him and walk away. Jesus is not forcing us to do anything. It’s up to us.

Jesus, who is God in his substance and has no sin, became a human person, and not only that, he came to us sinners. His baptism is the symbol of it. He suffered disrespect, pain and fear of the death on the cross, and yet he didn’t use his divine power in order to change the situation.

Thus he achieved the forgiveness of our Father God for us, but he still leaves the option in front of us; if we believe in him and follow; or not.

Looking back on ourselves in our everyday lives, we must have many chances to reach out our helping hand to the people in troubles around us and try to support them. We want to help them if we can do so, just like Jesus is helping the people in the Gospel stories or like he is helping us today. We think it is a right thing to do.

In the process of trying to support our neighbors, however, we need to pay attention to two things. The first thing is that we might have longing that we want to show our ability to solve the problem, sometimes even using our own privilege in our social status or relationship with people in society like the shogun Yoshimune does in the TV. That’s not a wrong thing.

But we are trying to help our neighbors, not trying to show off our social power or influence. Which is the purpose and which are the means; we need to be aware of this point always, so that we don’t confuse the purpose and the means.

Another thing we need to pay attention to is that even though we make certain effort to help people in trouble, those people might not show any appreciation for it. In my experience, this happens very often. So what? We are not trying to help people because we want to be thanked, we would say.

I learned in the seminary that we should not expect even a word of thanks when we offer our help to people in need, since the people seriously in trouble have no room in their minds to appreciate help from others, and I think it is true.

But not all of us are educated and trained as professional helpers. In reality, if somebody whom we are trying to help doesn’t show any expression of appreciation, or even any respect to what we are doing for him, it could surely affect on our feelings. We cannot deny it.

It’s sad feeling or even insulting though we think of somebody and care, that person doesn’t thank for it or even shows unsatisfying attitude.

In such a time, we can stop trying to help that person and shut him out. That is a human reaction. But at the same time, we can choose another reaction. That is to leave the option for the person and wait. He might notice someday that he owes us thanks; or he might not and turns his back to us finally. It’s up to the person.

And this is the same option that Jesus gives us ourselves, if we believe in him or turn our back to him. Are we always thankful enough to Jesus for the mercy he shows to us? Haven’t we been just unthankful even without noticing it? If so, what do we say regarding our unthankful neighbors?

Jesus never tries to rule us or take a control of our lives. He leaves it up to us to make decisions that regard ourselves. Then, before we make our decision that regard our neighbors, it must be always righteous and responsible that we remember the fact that Jesus, the sinless man, went to the river of Jordan to be baptized among other sinners. He didn’t have to do it. But he did it for us.

We need to think over what Jesus is doing for us, before we think of what we do for others.

The Grace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Amen.


*Beause of the cancelling of the service on 11th February (too stormy weather), last Sunday’s text was used in this service.

Matthew 3:13-17

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

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