Lectio Divina: The Baptism of the Lord (B)
Immersed in Christ, aware of the gift received,
sent into the world
1. Opening prayer
Holy Spirit, You who breathed on the waters of creation and guided the steps of Moses in the desert, come today upon us and immerse us in You, so that our every step and thought may be directed towards Christ as we listen to His Word.
Dwell within us, Spirit of the Father, and guide us to the truth of ourselves and to the knowledge of the Son of God who redeems us and makes us one with Him, so that the Father may be well pleased with us too. Amen.
2. The Gospel
a) A key to the reading:
Even Christ, in His human journey, had to gradually grow in the knowledge of His identity and of the task, in human history, entrusted to Him by the Father.
The baptism in the Jordan marks this growing in awareness and launches Jesus beyond the borders of His land, Galilee, into a universal mission and into a dimension where He shares the human condition, until then unimaginable for Him and for His prophets: it is God himself who "descends" to be by the side of human beings, even though aware of their weaknesses, to allow them to "climb" to the Father and give them access to communion with Him. The "pleasure" of the Father that Jesus hears in the Spirit will go with Him always on His earthly journey, making Him constantly aware of the joyful love of Him who sent Him into the world.
b) The text:
This is what John the Baptist proclaimed: "One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."
3. A time of silence,
interior as well as exterior, to open our hearts and allow space for the Word of God to enter into us.
4. The Word given to us:
* The baptism: purification rites by means of bathing or ablutions were quite common as a daily practice among the Jews at the time of Jesus (cf Mk 7:1-4), as well as among the Essenes of Qumran.
The word baptism indicates a bath, a complete immersion in water, and comes from the verb baptizo, rarely used in the Greek Old Testament: to immerse or submerge , producing a permanent change. We find this in 2Kings 5:14: the healing of Naaman, which comes about by means of a series of baths in the Jordan at the command of Elisha. It is from this event that the positive use of the word comes in later times.
* The baptism of John: is characteristic of this practice (so much so that it becomes known by his name) (cf Mk 1:4). John works in an unnamed place along the Jordan and baptizes in the flowing water of the river, not in specified places and in waters prepared for the rite. The conversion and penance demanded by him (Mk 1:4) are more on the moral than on the ritual level (cf Lk 3:8) and the rite, which signified such an existential change (bath and confession of sins), took place only once in a lifetime. Moreover, John clearly says that his baptism is only the preparation for a more radical purifying event, directly connected with the final judgment of God: "baptism in the spirit" and "in fire" (cf Mk 1:7-8, Mt 1:2-3).
The people of Judea and Jerusalem greatly welcomed John’s preaching, so much so that large crowds went to him to be baptized (Mk 1:5) as Joseph Flavius also narrates.
* Jesus and John at the Jordan: John knows quite well that he is not the Messiah and is inferior to him, yet he is called to prepare for His now imminent coming (Mk 1:7-8). All the Gospels speak of this awareness, emphasized by the use of the verb in the past for his baptism and in the future for the baptism of the Messiah. This reflects the care that the first Christian communities took to show that Christian baptism was superior to John’s baptism, as also Jesus, the Christ, was superior to John the Baptist (cf Mt 3:14; Jn 1:26-34).
* Baptism in the Spirit: it is the eschatological baptism promised by the prophets (cf Joel 3:1-5), connected with the fire of the judgment or under the form of sprinkling (cf Ez 36:25). Jesus receives this baptism soon after and His baptism will be the source and model of the baptism of the Christians. Thus the Christian community is founded on the gift of the Holy Spirit.
* Jesus came from Nazareth: Jesus stands out among the great crowd of Jewish penitents (cf Mk1:5) because He comes from an area where only echoes of the penitential preaching of the Baptist had reached in Galilee (Mk 1:9). For Mark this is an important place: Jesus begins His activities there and is well received. After Easter, it is there that the disciples meet Him (16:7) and understand Him fully and it is from there that they will leave for their mission (16:20). In the light of what Mark says immediately after the voice from heaven, Jesus is not only "stronger" than John, but has a nature far superior to that of John. And yet He went down among those who admitted being sinners, without being afraid of suffering any diminution of His dignity (cf Phil 2:6-7). He is "the light that shines in the darkness" (cf Jn 1:5).
The second Gospel does not report the reasons for which Jesus goes to receive the baptism of penance, even though the event is one of the most historically reliable among those narrated in the Gospels. What primarily interests the Evangelist is the divine revelation that comes after the baptism of Jesus.
* He saw the heavens torn apart: this is not a kind of special revelation for Jesus alone. The heavens, literally, "rip themselves open", in answer to Isaiah’s invocation: "If you would tear the heavens open and come down" (Is 63:19b). Thus, after a time of separation, a completely new phase begins in the communication between God and humankind. This new relationship is confirmed and becomes definitive with the redemptive death of Jesus, when the veil of the Temple was "torn" (cf Mk 15:38) as though a hand from heaven had struck it. The Easter of the death and resurrection is the "baptism wished for" by Jesus (cf Lk 12:50).
* The Spirit descending on Him: Jesus "ascends" from the water of the river and immediately after, the heavens open and the Spirit "descends" and rests on Him. From now on the period of waiting for the Spirit is over and the direct way that unites God with humankind is opened. Mark shows that Jesus is the only possessor of the Spirit who consecrates Him Messiah, makes Him fully aware of being God-Son, and dwells in Him and sustains Him in the mission willed by the Father.
According to Mark, the Spirit comes to Jesus like a dove. We meet the dove in the story of Noah and the dove is also connected to the waters and the work of God in the world (cf Gen 8:8-12). Elsewhere, the dove is used as a reminder of fidelity and permanence, and for its faithfulness in returning to the place from which it departed (cf Ct 2:14; Jn 1:33-34). The Spirit rests permanently on Jesus and takes possession of Him. In this passage we could also see a reference to the "breathing of the spirit of God over the waters" of creation (Gen 1:2). With Jesus, a "new creation" really begins (cf Mt 19:38; 2Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15).
* A voice came from heaven: with the coming of Jesus, communication between God and humankind is restored. It is not a matter of what the rabbis called "the daughter of the voice", an incomplete substitution of the prophetic word, but a matter of direct communication between Father and Son.
* Came…saw descending…was heard: we must admire the condescension of the Trinity that "stoops down" towards humankind, descends to the Jordan in Jesus to be baptized like so many sinners, descends upon Jesus in the Spirit for the sake of His self-awareness and His mission and descends in the voice of the Father to confirm His son-ship.
* You are My Son, My Beloved; My favor rests on You: Mark may have deliberately wanted to recall several passages of the Old Testament in order to emphasize, at least by allusion, the importance of the many nuances of these divine words.
First of all, we recall Isaiah 42:1 " Here is My servant whom I uphold, My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have endowed Him with My spirit that He may bring true justice to the nations". It is JHWH whom introduces His faithful servant. Here, however, the title of "servant" is not used but that of "son", weaving the prophetic text with a psalm of royal and messianic investiture: "He has told Me, ‘You are My son, today I have become your father’" (Ps 2:7). The Evangelist (as the other synoptic) allows the nature of the human-divine identity of Jesus to appear.
* You are My Son, My Beloved: In the light of the Paschal faith, Mark could not have meant this revelation to be that God was adopting the man Jesus. The voice from heaven is a confirmation of a special relationship already in existence between Jesus and the Father. The title Son of God is attributed to Jesus in the very first verse of Mark and again at the end of the passion when the centurion says, "In truth this man was a son of God" (Mk 1:1; 15:39). However, this title recurs in various forms and frequently (cf 3:11; 5:7; 9:7; 14:61). For Mark, the title "Son of God" is especially relevant for an understanding of the person of Jesus and for a full profession of faith. It is so important that eventually it was the proper name given to Jesus by Christians by which they meant to proclaim the essential elements of their own faith in Him (cf Rom 1:4): the Messiah king, the eschatological savior, the man who had a special relationship with the divine, the one risen from the dead, the second person of the Trinity.
The fact that the voice from heaven calls Him "chosen" and "beloved" (as will be repeated at the Transfiguration in 5:7 and 12:6) emphasizes the completely unique relationship of the Father with Jesus, so special that it overshadows the other relationships between human beings and God. Jacob, like Jesus, is the "only and chosen" son (cf Gen 22:2) and he is not spared the agony of a violent death (cf Heb 5:7).
* My favor rests on You: these words emphasize once more the messianic election of Jesus, fruit of the Father’s benevolence, that thus shows His absolute preference for the Son in whom He finds joy and satisfaction (cf Is 42:1). While Jesus, obedient to the Father, begins His mission of bringing humanity back to the Father (cf Mk 1:38).
5. A few questions
to give our reflection and actions direction:
a) Like us, Jesus lives on a stage in life. He goes from the "hidden life" to His "public life". We are passing from the Christmas season to "ordinary" time. These are the times for us to realize our mission which consists in our daily commitment (often hard and usually dry) to express in our life an awareness that God the Son is with us as our brother and savior, by using the gifts received in baptism.
Am I aware of the mission entrusted to me by the Father?
Am I able to express this mission in my everyday life or do I limit myself to special occasions?
b) Our baptism made us "children of God in the Son". God is also well pleased with us and we too are His "chosen" (cf 1Jn 2, 7, 3, 2:21, etc.).
Am I aware of the love with which the Father looks at me and relates to me?
Am I able to respond to this love with the simplicity and docility of Jesus?
c) Our passage contains a manifestation of the Trinity in action. The Spirit descends upon Jesus, the Father speaks to His Son and thus opens a new way of communicating with us human beings.
How is my prayer?
To whom do I usually pray?
6. Psalm 20
Let us pray this Psalm, aware of being chosen by the Father and that the Father is by our side always with great tenderness of heart.
The Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
The name of the God of Jacob protect you!
May He send you help from the sanctuary,
and give you support from Zion!
May He remember all your offerings,
and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices!
May He grant you your heart's desire,
and fulfill all your plans!
May we shout for joy over your victory,
and in the name of our God set up our banners!
May the Lord fulfill all your petitions!
Now I know that the Lord will help His anointed;
he will answer him from His holy heaven
with mighty victories by His right hand.
Some boast of chariots, and some of horses;
but we boast of the name of the Lord our God.
They will collapse and fall;
but we shall rise and stand upright.
Give victory to the king, O Lord;
answer us when we call.
7. Closing prayer
The liturgical context is excellent for an understanding and for praying this Gospel. We, therefore, take up the preface to convey our prayer to God:
Father, in Christ’s baptism in the Jordan, You worked signs and wonders
to manifest the mystery of the new washing (our baptism).
Your voice was heard from heaven
to awaken faith in the presence among us
of the Word made man.
Your Spirit was seen as a dove resting upon Him
and consecrated Your Servant
with priestly, prophetic and royal anointing,
so that all would recognize Him as the Messiah,
sent to bring to the poor
the good news of salvation.
Grant that we may thank and glorify You
for this priceless gift,
for having sent to us Your Son, our brother and teacher.
Let Your kind gaze rest upon us
and grant that we may bring You joy in all our actions,
Forever and ever.