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“Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness”

(Mt 3:15)



On the occasion of the feasts of the Nativity and

Epiphany, we like to present here one of the articles by

Father Matta on these events. It is a sermon delivered in

the church of Abba Skheiron, in the Monastery of St

Macarius, on January 1976.

Father Matta El-Meskeen (Matthew the Poor)



wE SHALL FOLLOW ON from what we said on the Feast of the Nativity

concerning our great need always to progress from faith expressed in words to faith

expressed in experience. Remember how that evening we were able to see in the stature

of the Christ child a new opportunity, even a new power, from which we might seek to

acquire renewal, or rather healing for the pride of our spirit, which has grown withered

with age, and whose wounds are festering. Remember how there opened before us on

the Feast of the Nativity a door leading to a new life of fellowship with Christ in His

infancy, to prepare us to enter into the Kingdom according to the condition laid down by

the Lord: “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the

kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3).

Today, beloved, as we celebrate the baptism of the Lord in the Jordan, we see before

us the fulfillment of the same experience that we entered into at the Nativity. Now

Christ, as a young man of thirty, steps forward, with a childlike spirit that is quite

amazing, to be baptized by a man at the hand of John.

As a child, Christ had offered to mankind an opening, or rather an effective source,

from which man could draw power and inspiration to solve his major problem: “Which

is the greater?” It is a problem from which no one can escape; even the disciples

themselves fell prey to it, and St Luke records for us the regrettable scene. “A dispute

also arose among them, which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.” And He said

to them, “Rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as

one who serves. For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? Is it

not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves” (Lk 22:24-27).

Now, in His baptism, Christ offers us, as He bows His head under the hand of John, a

solution to a deeper and more serious problem: “Which is the most righteous?” I call

this a deeper and more serious problem, because “Which is the greatest?” is a problem

related to the outward appearance. It may happen that a man may avoid it by preferring

his brother to himself before other people, so that he should appear more humble or

more righteous. But the great disaster and danger lies in the problem “Which is the most

righteous?” Man, in his heart, always praises himself, and it is hard for man to praise the

righteousness of another. But in the baptism of Christ we see this rule strikingly

reversed. Christ, the most righteous, presents Himself to John, who is totally lacking in

righteousness (that is divinity), and bowing His head in humility urges John to consent

to baptize Him.

Pay attention here, beloved, for when Christ says, “Let it be so now; for thus it is

fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness,” He is not receiving righteousness from John,

but “fulfilling” all righteousness for John and the whole human race. Christ here,

although He appears to be receiving for Himself the anointing of baptism for

righteousness, is in fact, by His baptism, bringing about all righteousness, not for

Himself, but for any other man who follows His example. Christ here, through His

baptism, adds righteousness to the account of mankind, the righteousness of the

submission of the greater to the less. Christ here introduces to the human race a

possibility that did not exist before, the possibility of the submission of the righteous to

one who is less righteous than he. Through this submission a new righteousness was

born, introduced by Christ to the world of human pride; and Christ counted it as “all


Today Christ offers us the greatest treatment for the greatest malady. By bowing His

head under the hand of John, receiving from him the unction of baptism, He delivers to

us the spirit of humility, or, as we may say more powerfully, the mystery of humility,

which contains “the fulfillment of all righteousness.”

In the eyes of God, the people of Israel were basically characterized as a “thicknecked”

and “stiff-necked” people. Stiff-necked towards whom? Towards God Himself.

The people of Israel never bowed their heads under the hand of God, and they were not

the last of the peoples of the earth to behave so. Christ came to heal the stiffness of the

necks of the people of Israel and all mankind.

He bows His head simply, submissively and quite willingly under the hand of John

and delivers to us a divine balm with which to anoint our necks, so that we shall be

healed of the pain of pride and receive the mystery of “all righteousness.” This is the

secret balm, the divine and mysterious ointment, which, if we use it, restores to our

necks the suppleness of childhood, so that we always bow our heads in simplicity,

seeking after all righteousness.

We notice, beloved, that Christ presented Himself to John as one needing to be

baptized. This is clear when John says to Him, “I need to be baptized by You, and do

You come to me?” That is, “You are coming to me life one in need.” In fact Christ had

no need to be baptized, nor any need for anything, nor for any righteousness, but when

He presented Himself for baptism as one in need, bowing His head in obedient

submission, He reveals to us one of the mysteries of the fulfillment of righteousness.

This is that when a man sets out to perform an act of humility and submission, he must

do so as one who is truly in need, and not in condescension! Christ reveals and carries

out not what is fitting for Him, but what is fitting for us and for our salvation and the

fulfillment of righteousness in our lives.

But I still feel, beloved, that I have not conveyed the full meaning of Christ’s bowing

His head to John.

This action of Christ’s by the Jordan stirs our consciences deeply. I might almost say

that by it Christ has this evening exposed our pride and revealed how far we are from

understanding and practising “true righteousness.” How hard it is for a lay-worker or

priest to bow his head to receive a blessing from the hand of one his equal! But what

Christ did went beyond all sense and logic. There was no fault in Him that He should

bow His divine head under a human hand to be anointed.

By this submission, which supersedes all the logic of priesthood, Christ established a

righteousness that excels every other righteousness in greatness, action and warmth. He

saw fit to record here in the Jordan, at the beginning of His public ministry, the firm

foundation on which a successful ministry must be based: “the bowed head.” This is

borne out and confirmed by the parallel we find in what Christ did with the same power

the night He instituted the mystery of the Lord’s Supper, when He stooped down

completely and sat upon the ground to wash the disciples’ feet. It is as if bowing the

head in contrite submission is the formal beginning for every divine mystery, whether

baptism or Eucharist.

The true significance of this point appears when we remember what Christ said to

Peter when he tried to excuse himself from having his feet washed, thinking it was too

much that he should stand like a master with Christ before him like a slave and servant.

The Lord rebuked him; “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me” (Jn 13:8). The

same thing happened at His baptism, when John tried to excuse himself from the task of

laying hands on Christ’s head and baptizing Him in the water. The Lord cut him short

with, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Mt 3:15).

Christ’s firm intention here to insist on the absolute necessity of His taking up a position

before both John and Peter of one less than they, reveals to us the importance and

seriousness of the practice of the mystery of humility and submission in serving the

Church, in the priesthood and in the Christian life in general. It is the basic way of

entering into righteousness. “For I have given you an example, that you also should do

as I have done to you. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (Jn

13:15, 17).

The truth that we monks must never forget, is that Christ here abruptly reverses the

normal order of things in order that we should be vigilant.

Christ here rejects the human concept of justice and turns it upside down. He rejects

every logic of self-defense and pours scorn on it, for after He has bowed His head

beneath the hand of John we can no longer ask with dignity “Who is the greatest?” Our

dignity lies in our deliberate and insistent relinquishment of every dignity and in

surrendering it to those who are less than we. We can no longer uphold claims to

leadership or priority or privilege, for the extent to which we humble ourselves before

the community is what establishes our righteousness and our true leadership, and our

actions are to be commended in proportion to our renunciation of our worthiness.

John the Baptist’s readiness to baptize Christ was also an act of obedience and

submission, which may be compared with the humble and modest response of the

Virgin Mary, when God chose her to bear Christ. The obedience and submission of John

the Baptist to the Lord’s command to baptize Him prepared the way for Christ to enact,

within the rite of the mystery of baptism, the amazing mystery of humility, which He

called the mystery of the fulfillment of righteousness. He in the Jordan, as later when He

washed the disciples’ feet, the Lord demonstrates His submission, like a slave, under the

hand of John to abolish the shame of man, who refused to submit under the hand of


Once again we stop to contemplate how heaven was moved by the humble acts of the

Lord Jesus. When Christ was born and laid in a manger in a stable, the heavens opened,

and the angel and the hosts of heaven appeared to announce the good news of a great

salvation, and to glorify God. Here at the Jordan the same thing happens. The heavens

open, the Holy Spirit appears visibly, and the voice of the Father Himself announces the

identity of this Man bowing His head before John. “This is my beloved Son, with whom

I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17). So it is that, in so far as man on earth humbles himself,

God reveals Himself and with the angels of heaven gives man glory.

We notice too that the Holy Spirit alights on Christ as He bows Himself down, taking

the form of a dove. He does not appear as a tongue of flame as on the day of Pentecost,

nor as a heavy hand upon the head as happened to the Old Testament prophets, for the

Holy Spirit chooses the form in which He appears, according to the condition of the one

He comes upon. So the Spirit chose the form of the gentle dove to reveal the nature of

the heart of Jesus and His great meekness, love and humility.

How much we need today the meekness of this heart of Jesus, as He stands bowing

down before John in simple humility and submission, so that the Holy Spirit may come

upon us in the form of a dove, to bring us closer to the Jesus of the Jordan and unite our

hearts together with that gentle, humble heart!

At the Nativity we took the meekness of infancy as a standard by which to live at all

times to be prepared to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. At the Jordan we take the bowed

head of Christ as a standard by which we may be prepared to live in humble fellowship

with the Holy Spirit, and as a vocation to live out in the world.

For just as Christ urged us to go back and remain always as children so that we may

enter the Kingdom of Heaven, He urges us too to be meek as doves. This is the

anointing we need for service and to live in the world. Christ is always ready to give us

the spirit of infant humility according to His stature in Bethlehem, and the spirit of the

humility of the dove according to His stature in the Jordan, so that we may be prepared

outwardly and inwardly to attain the full stature of Christ.


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