Of and By
Week of Sunday Jan 8 - The Baptism of Jesus
Gospel: Mark 1:4-11
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight” ’,
4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
In this Year of Mark, we have already considered some of the verses set for this week. (Advent 2) My colleague Louis van Laar has written
The 'year of Mark' indeed! With texts from Matthew, Luke and especially John added to some from Mark, the year should be renamed! In true Australian fashion it could be called the 'Mongrel Year!' .... A quick check of the 52 Sundays in year B showed that on 22 of them the Gospel reading was NOT from Mark.
We will need to work hard to hear Mark’s word about Jesus, rather than the preoccupation of the Lectioners who chose the readings for this year. Mark has his own christology; his own story of the meaning and significance of claiming Jesus is the Christ.
The good news of Jesus Christ (1:1) presents a startling claim through the story of his baptism. (I’ve added the emphasis to Bill Loader’s words.)
‘O that you would rend the heavens and come down!’ These words of Isaiah 64:1 may have influenced Mark’s choice of language here: Jesus ‘saw the heavens rent open’ (1:10). This is a very graphic way of doing christology. In Jesus there is a meeting of the God sphere and the human sphere. I sometimes think it is helpful to turn the whole scene upside down: in Jesus God surfaces from the depths in a special way!
Bill’s poetry reflects the dense text of Mark; poetry more than reportage.
There is huge authority given to Jesus in this tearing of the heavens. When Joshua and the priests went down to the waters of the Jordan, the river was split in two. When Jesus went down to the waters of the Jordan, the very heavens were split apart. (I owe this thought to Jack Spong.)
Of course, this baptism; “just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart,” (1:10) has an echo in the baptism at the end of the gospel; just when he died, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” (15:38)
That “meeting of the God sphere and the human sphere” is made available to us all by the end of the gospel. Jesus connects us to God.
John proclaimed that the one coming after him was more powerful than he, because “he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
This proclamation is difficult for us when we are confused, or even intimidated, by neo-Pentecostal claims. Some folk in the pews, and even their preachers, may fear they have not yet received some mythical second blessing of the Spirit. Water baptism is one thing, some folk tell us, but then there is the baptism in the Spirit. Without that, we are incomplete; even inferior (to them.)
Bill Loader says
Back further (1:7-8) we find John asserting clearly that the one to come is his superior and will baptise with Spirit, as he baptised with water. Reading forwards we expect some news about this one who will baptise with the Spirit and the baptismal scene provides it. Here is both the person of whom John spoke and the Spirit with which he will baptise, descending like a dove (a symbol of gods? of the hovering Spirit of Genesis? certainly gentle). If we did not know Luke’s writings and his report in Acts of the day of Pentecost, we would expect that this immersing in the Spirit is about to take place. Doubtless this is Mark’s meaning. Jesus is about to baptise in the Spirit; he is about to commence his ministry which is the good news of God.
Again, I have added the emphasis to Bill’s words. Bill also says (my emphasis)
Though the word, Spirit, occurs infrequently in Mark, it comes at key points which confirm that Mark sees John’s prophecy being fulfilled in Jesus’ ministry. The Spirit takes Jesus away into the wilderness (1:12). In 3:28-30 Jesus describes his exorcisms, in particular, as works of the Spirit. Baptising with the Spirit, according to Mark, is being a bearer of the Spirit to people in a way that brings release and freedom.
I have already said that the “’meeting of the God sphere and the human sphere’ is made available to us all by the end of the gospel. Jesus connects us to God.” Let me add that it makes us like Jesus!
In this light, being baptised in the Spirit is not about what we receive, but what we can give. Do we live in a way that brings release and freedom to other people? In our repentance, the living out of our water baptism, are we following the great commandment and loving our neighours as ourselves. (12:28 -34) If so, we are being a ‘bearer of the Spirit’, and ‘bringing release and freedom.’
On this Sunday when we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus, we see Jesus is baptised like us. He makes the same decision to repent as we do. He is not some super-human, but a person who chooses God, and God’s way. This makes him one who can be chosen by God. And so he becomes the “meeting of the God sphere and the human sphere” which we can all attend. He connects us to God. We become like Jesus!
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.