Parting the Jordan River
(A Tale of Young Jesus and Young John the Baptist)
Little Johnnie Baptist and Kid Jesus decided to play Moses and Pharaoh one day at the Jordan River just south of the big lake. Little Johnnie Baptist as Moses, cried out in a loud, raspy voice, “Let my people go!” spraying spit as he spoke. And Kid Jesus, the hard-hearted Pharaoh, replied in a harsh voice, “You mangy dogs, you slaves! No, no, no! Pharaoh has spoken, so let it be done.”
“Well, my G-d will show you something!” shouted Moses, a.k.a. Little Johnnie Baptist, with flecks of spit flying and he pushed his way past Pharaoh Kid Jesus and marched up to the edge of the river bank.
“On’t-Day Are-Day Efy-Day Y-May Ecree-Day! (Don’t dare defy my decree!)” shouted Pharaoh Jesus in Pig-Latin to Moses’ back. Meanwhile Little Johnnie was facing the water, hands raised just like the real Moses and shouted this command:
Sparkling water, clear and bright
Cleave apart before God’s might.
Save your people. Set them free
From accursed slavery!
So forcefully did he communicate despite the spit that they almost expected that this water should obey his command. As Little Johnnie issued his command, Kid Jesus, in his mind’s eye, saw the river parted and, with just the slightest bit of intention he rolled back the waters of the flowing river. Roll, Jordan roll! Had they recovered from their shock at the parted river, they might have crossed to the other bank dry shod.
“Mother of G-d!” gasped Kid Jesus incredulously.
“Holy smoke and fire!” spat Little Johnnie.
Mouths agape and eyes wide as pita bread, the boys looked aghast at each other. And Little Johnnie cried wetly, “I didn’t do it. I was only pretending!”
Kid Jesus, slipping out of his Pharaoh character, was amazed, learning that he had no small authority even over the physical laws of nature.
The Almighty Father from his throne of glory in Heaven happened to look in on his son and his future prophet at that very moment, and in a flash decided to teach them both a lifetime lesson. So G-d held the parted waters in place and prevented them from returning to their customary course.
Little Johnnie waved and flexed his arms in a frantic effort to return the waters, but to no avail. Jesus, concerned that this might mean real trouble, set his child’s mind and his child’s faith to work, but, alas, he too, was unable to cause the water to flow again in its riverbed.
Taking a cautious step down into the riverbed, Jesus noticed that John stood rooted to his spot on the bank of the river.
“Come on, let’s look,” encouraged Jesus.
“I’m afraid of the water,” Johnnie shamefully admitted.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of. Take my hand,” said Jesus.
“I c-c-can’t,” said John.
“What do you mean, ‘you can’t’?” asked Jesus.
“I can’t swim,” confessed John.
“You don’t have to swim,” said Jesus brightly. “Come on, take my hand.”
So John clasped Jesus’ hand and timidly stepped off the bank into the riverbed.
Fear soon gave way to healthy curiosity and they gazed at the parted waters and then ventured down into the riverbed to see this wonder at close hand.
They marveled at a school of silvery fish just inside the sparkling blue-green waters of the lake. A turtle with its stubby little legs swam across the downstream side of water.
When they reached the bottom of the riverbed, the Almighty released his grip on the waters. The pure, clean torrent, obeying his laws of nature, rushed downstream in the manner prescribed from the Beginning. And the wild rushing of the water, held back for too long, released its pent up energy on the boys, tossing them about, throwing them heels over head. The wave engulfed the boys and held them under the surface for an extended sojourn.
At first, Little Johnnie’s entire short life passed before his eyes in a flash. Then he was given glimpses of the afterlife, one variant being dark and endless watery expanses, which terrified the boy.
After that there was a session of formal, classroom instruction on dietary restrictions for prophets. G-d showed a filmstrip on the benefits of eating only wild honey and locusts. Yes, that sounds boring and Little Johnnie thought that he would never get out of that class. In fact, Little Johnnie was under the water for so long that he encountered a bright, welcoming light.
The pure light shimmered at the end of a tunnel and out of it flew a white dove. As the dove glided gently and slowly its shape changed to that of a man, but the man was hanging on a cross, crucified in the Roman fashion. The man raised his head with difficulty and looked at Little Johnnie and all the pain and agony of all G-d’s people showed in his eyes. And he spoke these words to Little Johnnie: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”
The crucified man then lowered his head, giving his spirit up to G-d, and he died. But then he changed back into a dove and returned to the light at the end of the tunnel.
Then Little Johnnie’s head broke the surface of the clean water and a gulp of air found its way through the water in his lungs.
Having managed to maintain their grip on each other by the hand, G-d only knows how, Kid Jesus hauled himself and his cousin out of the rushing waters and collapsed into a soggy heap on the riverbank. They had seen close up the fine line that separates life and death, and we’ll never know for sure, but it seems that Little Johnnie actually crossed that line while under the water.
Little Johnnie, sputtering water out of his lungs, gasped out, “I saw the Messiah. I saw him under the water! I saw the Messiah!” Kid Jesus listened to this outlandish claim and said nothing, which was a very grownup response. Breathlessly, John tried to explain, “he was crucified; he was a dove; he looked at me; he told me, ‘Prepare the way’.”
Still, Jesus said nothing, which upset John, thinking that his cousin didn’t believe him.
“Didn’t you see the light down there?” asked Little Johnnie, not believing that what he had seen could be missed by anyone with at least half an eye. Kid Jesus just shook his head no. “Don’t you believe me?” demanded Little Johnnie.
“Not all are given to see as you see,” said Jesus.
John made a scoffing sound and shook his head in disbelief.
“Wait,” said Jesus, “I just had an idea! Next time you go in the water, I’ve heard that if you wear a camel’s hair garment and a leather belt, it will keep you floating, that it acts like a… a… a saver. Camel’s hair garments keep you floating! But only if you wear a leather belt with it.”
“You can keep your camel’s hair and leather belt because I’m never going near the water again!” cried Johnnie in fear.
That evening, in his prayers before sleeping, Kid Jesus thanked his Abba Father for the valuable lesson he learned that day and, for once, he immediately fell deeply asleep.
And Little Johnnie, in his nightly prayers thanked Almighty G-d for escaping a near brush with death. He also thought of the dove and the crucified man he had seen under the water and he wondered at the phrase, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” He held those words in his mind like a boy might hold a pretty rock, turning it over and over to examine it from different angles.
And then a light came on in his head. He sat up smartly on his mat and said, “Wait a dog-gone minute! Prepare… out of the water… Jordan River… cleansing… a sign of repentance… new life…Prepare ye the way of the Lord, water…“
Breaking into a cold sweat, Little Johnnie clapped his hand to his forehead in dismay and cried out, “Oh, Lord, no! Not in the water! I’ll drown!!!”
But the Lord was insistent and He reminded Little Johnnie of Jesus’ advice to wear a camel’s hair garment with a leather belt for buoyancy. The very thought of it assuaged the mounting fear and panic in his heart and the word ‘saver’ also came to his mind bringing comfort as the Lord made straight the path of Little Johnnie’s vocation.
Little Johnnie thought again of the crucified man and his haunted eyes and he thought he saw a familiarity that he should recognize, as if on the tip of his tongue, but he just couldn’t make the connection. Despite his exhaustion he slept fitfully with all these ideas and images a swirling maelstrom in his head.
And that is why our Savior, instead of swimming across the lake, was walking on the water on his way to meet his disciples. He had indeed learned a valuable lesson that day: Always swim with a buddy.
Bogus historical note: (Actually, 3 bogus historical notes)
- Standing close to the Baptist while he was speaking frequently resulted in a thorough wetting of his audience, so much did he spit.
- Every single survivor of John’s baptismal rite attested that they were held under the water long enough to experience a similar revelation as that in the Baptist’s childhood. By contrast, those who merely observed his baptismal technique from afar were left with the impression that the flailing arms and kicking feet of those immersed were induced by an over abundance of religious fervor or paroxysms of ecstasy. In any event this flailing and kicking during baptism eventually gave birth to two sects: the Shakers and the Quakers.
- John the Baptist caused to have erected signs near the site of his baptismal ministry which were inscribed in three languages, Greek, Latin, and Aramaic, the words: Always swim with a buddy.
So was it done, so let it be written.
Kurt J. Peterson © 2010