Baptism Is Our Own Unique Algorithm

49 "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law." 54 He also said to the crowds, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, "It is going to rain'; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, "There will be scorching heat'; and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

Jesus’ words about fire seem a bit daunting, but they are better understood in context. To start, when Jesus talks about fire in other places in the Gospel of Luke, it is always in reference to a refining fire – like the ones used to purify metal. The baptism Jesus brings to the earth is a purifying event which ultimately gives us a more purse sense of God’s presence in the world and our changed “being” with the gift of the Holy Spirit.

For example, we come to know baptism as God’s gift to us. A gift that matches God’s promising Word with an earthly symbol. This gift is life changing, because it comes with forgiveness and a place set a part for us after this life. This gift changes our perspective on our own lives, those around us, and our time hear on earth with a confidence that we will be with God when this life comes to an end. This new perspective allows us to act differently toward one another and ultimately change the world.

As followers of Jesus, we are then agents of this gift – which we call grace – in the world. This means we called to be more generous, more forgiving, or more willing to go out to those in need, even when we regularly fall short and don’t fulfil our calling. God gives us grace, to get up and try again. Some may not like this new Holy Spirit take on life and it is bound to cause division, and Jesus makes that known, but Jesus is on a mission to change the world and to start a breaking of God’s kingdom into our earthly existence.

Hopefully this gives us a better understanding of the first part of Jesus’ comments for this week, but what about the last section. What do we do with Jesus’ suggestion that just as we can know the ways nature is moving around us, so should we know the direction of our “present time?” 

One of the best works out right now discussing the course of our present time is Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. In this work, which is the third of three books, he talks about the long-term effects of biotech and infotech on our species and culture.

In one section he talks about the evolution of self-driving cars. More specifically, he talks about the ethical decisions algorithms will need to make on our behalf. For example, what happens in the future when a self-driving car needs to make an instant decision, does it swerve out of the way from a child running into the road to catch a ball even though it knows if it swerves it will most likely kill the driver. Will the owner of the car have to make the selection of such a hypothetical scenario to take the life of the child over the life of the owner. Harari offers the idea of going into the setting of the car and deciding on the egotistical mode or the altruistic mode. And then for us, what setting would we choose?

 If we were to attempt to assess the present time, we could say that the more data points we offer freely, and the more algorithms that get to know our data and make recommendations, the less often we get to make decisions based on our faithful values. Could there be a future where almost all of our decision are made for us, and if so, who or what entity is designing the algorithms in the first place?

Following Jesus has always been a difficult challenge, but the road in front of us is like nothing we have seen before. Therefore we are to continually be reminded of our baptism, its importance, and the unique perspective it gives us on the world and our small and large decisions.