Baptism of the Lord Year B – Lectio divina on Mk 1,7-11
With the utmost brevity the evangelist recounts the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. John the Baptist’s preaching and the Father’s public intervention identify him as the Giver of the Spirit and the beloved Son of God. The narrative serves to reveal Jesus’ true identity. He is far more than might be expected from someone coming from Nazareth. He can baptize with the Spirit of God, something not even the Baptist could do. God himself breaks his silence, and the heavens open, to declare publicly that he is Son of God. It would be hard to think of a better way to begin the story of the life of Jesus, the Messiah and the Son of God. Mark lets his readers understand that he is not speaking about an ordinary man of God, and that his message is more than just good news. Jesus gives his Spirit and so he makes God present in himself and in his preaching.
In the course of his preaching John the Baptist said, ‘Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals. I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’
It was at this time that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised in the Jordan by John. No sooner had he come up out of the water than he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’
I. Read: understand what the text is saying and focus on how it says it.
Mark begins the Good News about Jesus Christ, Son of God (Mk 1, 1) with a prologue (Mk 1,2-13). Before introducing the main character, he gives the word first to the Baptist, the precursor (Mk 1, 2-8), and then immediately God introduces himself as the Father who loves the Son. Before Jesus is recognised from what he says and does, God identifies him as his beloved Son.
The narrator says very little about his main character. He comes from Nazareth, a place with no great reputation (cf. Jn 1, 46). He allows himself to be baptized by John as a sign of his desire for conversion. It is not a very promising beginning, but it is followed by the testimony of God himself. This is the third and definitive testimony to Jesus (Mk 1,1. 7-8. 11) and it the most important part of the whole episode: God reveals who Jesus is for him! This far surpasses the statement of John the Baptist or his expectations (Mk 1,7-8). Before others say it (Mk 1, 24; 5,6), God himself states that he is Jesus’ Father and identifies Jesus as his Son. God is identifying himself – it is Jesus who defines him as Father. There could be no better introduction: God identifies himself with this man who is baptized in the Jordan. Anyone who believes in God has no choice but to accept Jesus as God. The believer’s task is to see Jesus with the eyes and heart of God.
This brief episode is the story of a man called by God to be the Son of God. In effect, it describes the vocation of Jesus to be the Son of God and to act as such (cf. Ps. 2, 7). Although he is unknown, the appearance of Jesus on the banks of the river Jordan offers God the opportunity to communicate with his people. He gives his Spirit to his anointed one through the water of baptism. Wherever Jesus is, even if his presence is hardly noticed, the heavens open without any obstacle, the Spirit descends and God speaks. The time of waiting is over. Who is there to wait for, if the Son has come? Where God does not speak, and where He is unknown, Jesus is absent. When he is present, even if it is in the desert, God breaks his silence and the heavens are opened.
It is God who says that he is the Father of Jesus. When God speaks, he creates. (cf Gen 1, 3. 220.127.116.11-14.20-24). God’s word is a creative word. Whoever he calls son, becomes son. It is the Father who acknowledges the Son by publicly accepting him as his own. God reveals his Fatherhood at the very moment when Jesus appears on the scene. Even before Jesus says or does anything to show that he is the Son, he is introduced by God as his Son, and God introduces himself as his Father. Being the Son results from the will of the Father. Jesus is the beloved Son of the Father. This paternal love precedes and will accompany his ministry – this man of Nazareth is the Son of God. The account which begins now is not about the activities of a mere man, however great he might be. It is the story of the things done by the Son of God. God is at the origin of the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth. Whatever is said about him is the good news about God.
II. Meditate: apply what the text says to life
We have celebrated the birth of Jesus. Now we return to contemplate him as he walked among people, preaching about God and his kingdom. As we do so, we have an opportunity to relive the circumstances of his journey among people. This will help us to live among them, in the hope that one day we will find God-with-us, who is Jesus of Nazareth.
Today’s gospel presents us with Jesus, already adult, going to the Jordan to be baptized by John. This must have been a fundamental decision for Jesus. It was one of the milestones of his life. We know very little about his life up to this point, but we can say that he led a normal life like that of any man in Galilee. From now on, he will live on the roads, without a roof over his head and without a family of his own, proclaiming the kingdom of God and drawing near to those who were willing to listen to him. Almost all of what we know about him – the miracles he worked and the parables he spoke, the constant disputes with his enemies, the difficult relationship with his disciples, his wandering life and his tragic death –belongs to the period that follows his meeting with John the Baptist, and is the logical consequence of that meeting. Baptism brought about a radical transformation in Jesus. If that is what baptism meant for him, then what should it mean for us?
For the Jews baptism was a penitential exercise. Receiving baptism meant acknowledging one’s sins and the desire to return to God. Jesus joined the crowd going down into the Jordan in search of forgiveness and desirous of conversion, but for him, baptism was not an act of repentance. God had taken it upon himself to dispel any shadow of doubt by publicly declaring Jesus his beloved Son. The people who went to John the Baptist with the desire of turning back to God, found among their company the God they had lost. The God that they thought far away from their worries and their sin, and whom they had often ignored, was standing there among them in the Jordan. The Son of God, identified as such by the Father in the presence of John and the crowd, has nothing else to do than preach conversion and the coming of the Kingdom to those who needed it most. Because he belonged totally to God and the family of God, Jesus put himself at the service of all who wanted to belong to God and were not yet fully his.
Jesus discovered his personal mission when he was recognised openly. Having been publicly proclaimed the Son of God, he could not but give himself totally to the things of God. He could no longer hide among men who were seeking God, because God has identified him as his Son. The more he knew he was close to God, the more he felt the need to draw men nearer to God. At the Jordan, God could not remain silent about what Jesus meant to him, and from then on Jesus could not stay silent about God and his Kingdom. When his relationship with God was not known, Jesus could remain anonymous and be regarded as just another Galilean. When God broke his silence and the heavens opened, and God proclaimed him his beloved Son, he had no other mission on earth than to proclaim the will of the Father in heaven. Knowing that he was the Son of God made him a missionary. Being called the beloved of God led him to proclaim the God who loved him. Feeling loved by God, he became God’s envoy. At the baptism of Jesus, God felt obliged to give testimony in his favour. With God’s declaration and the descent of the Spirit, Jesus became an apostle of the Father. Now that everyone knew who he was, he had to make God known to all.
We should not forget that we are baptised like Jesus, and baptised in his name. We may have forgotten the day of our baptism, but that does not free us from its consequences. True, the heavens did not open on the day of our baptism, and the people present did not hear God’s voice, but this does not mean that we are not children of God. Today, our contemplation of Jesus, called Son by God himself, and called to preach the Kingdom of God, should help us to recover our lost dignity as sons and daughters, and our mission as witnesses, an honour and a task that we received on the day of our baptism.
If at times we do not feel loved by God, or if often we do not see the Father in the God we invoke, could it be because, unlike Jesus, we have forgotten our mission as sons and daughters, the mission that God entrusts to all whom he recognises as his children on the day of their adoption? If the Kingdom of God does not occupy our hearts and our hands, and if we are not concerned about our Father’s business, we will not feel that we are part of God’s family, though indeed we are. The God of Jesus ceases to be family to those who do not know and do his will. If we are not interested in proclaiming to others what we already are, and if God and his Kingdom do not become present in us, what right have we to complain that God does not treat us as a father should? Anyone who knows he is a son, acts like a son. Only those who love, feel loved. We will know God’s concern for us, and his loving attention, if we make God’s concerns our own. God will not enter fully into our hearts if his Kingdom does not fill our days and our hands are not busy working for his Kingdom. People who are not interested in God will find it difficult to feel that God is interested in them.
We Christians lose a lot of time, maybe even the whole of our lives, if we are interested only in God’s graces and not in his will, in his gifts and not in his Kingdom. If all we want is for God to show us his goodness, and we want it more from day to day, we will not feel his love. The Son has no doubt about the Father’s care for him, and he is concerned about the family business without expecting a salary in return. If we paid a bit more attention to what we ought to do to make the Father better known, loved, respected and praised, we would be transformed into his beloved children. This is what Jesus did and this is what we are contemplating today. We, on the other hand, lose interest in God and the things of God, and yet we expect him to care for us. Jesus was not satisfied with just being the Son of God. He did not go on living in anonymity nor did he cling to his dignity. He acknowledged God as his Father and made him known, as he proclaimed God’s Kingdom to his listeners.
Let us contemplate Jesus. He is our heaven opened and the voice of our God, his beloved Son. We see in him what we are called to be – children of God and missionaries sent by the Father. We will be his children if we become his witnesses. God does not expect us to work miracles or prodigies but only to have the courage to proclaim him as our Father. If we make our own the mission of Jesus, God will recognise us as his children. If we tell the world that we have God as our Father, we will become his beloved children. Could we hope for anything better, with so little effort on our part?