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Duvall's Self-Baptism in The Apostle

My favorite cinematic depiction of baptism takes place in Robert Duvall’s remarkable motion picture, The Apostle. Sonny, Mr. Duvall’s character, is a pious but deeply flawed preacher who, in a fit of jealous rage, kills his wife’s lover. He leaves town, jettisons his automobile with the Texas plates that read “SONNY,” and tries to start a new life. In the film’s most memorable scene, Sonny wades into a lake and prepares to baptize himself as an apostle. “With great,humility,” he begins, looking toward the heavens, “I ask permission to be accepted as an apostle of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ of Nazareth. And with your gracious permission, I wish to be baptized as an apostle of our Lord.”

Then, with arms upraised, Sonny submerges himself beneath the waters of God’s forgiveness.

That scene of self-baptism may have been remarkably faithful to the baptism of Jesus, which is recorded in today’s gospel. St. Mark tells us that Jesus “was baptized by John in the Jordan,” but it is very likely that John the baptizer stood on land as Jesus immersed himself in the Jordan River. One of the earliest Christian depictions of the event shows John standing on shore and offering his hand toward Jesus as he emerged from the water.

But this raises a larger question: Why was Jesus baptized in the first place?

- Randall Balmer, "Why Baptism," sermon preached at Christ Church (Episcopal), Middle Haddam, Connecticut, January 8, 2012.