This coming Sunday we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. Please consider this Scripture reflection by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. This content is edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here Franciscan Gospel Reflection January 3 2021. Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Photo: Holy Angels, West Bend, Wisconsin; Holy Name, Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
And 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.”
The Baptism of Jesus is recorded in all three synoptic gospels. (Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:7-11, and Luke 3:21-22) Both Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts describe a more public event. Mark describes the event as if those present at Jesus’ baptism would not have noticed anything unusual. The opening of the heavens, the descent of the Holy Spirit, and the voice of God were all private experiences of Jesus as he came up from the water. By explicitly stating “he saw” in verse 10, Mark is telling his community that this was Jesus’ experience. While those present at the time were unaware, the early Christians were well aware of the events and their significance. They had not only experienced the resurrection, but they had many years to reflect on the meaning of these events before the gospels were written.
As for the context for this event, John the Baptist has left his family and the role of his father, Zachariah, to become a prophet and baptizer. He proclaims a baptism of repentance and purification in preparation for one who is to come. He is preparing for the one God will send to judge the world as with a strong wind and fire. As John preaches, he makes use of the image of the winnowing fan that is used to separate the chaff from the grain at the harvest. The grain is collected and the chaff is burnt. (Matthew 3:12)
While Mark does not describe John baptizing Jesus, he acknowledges the fact. If John’s baptism is for repentance, the question would be asked, why would Jesus submit to John’s baptism? There would also have been those who thought that by submitting to John’s baptism, Jesus was acknowledging that John was the more important figure. Some biblical scholars believe that Jesus was a disciple of John for some period. Even the first summation of Jesus’ preaching that Mark records in his gospel sounds very much like the message of John. “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)
In response to the questions and doubts that people of the day had about Jesus’ suitability as the Messiah, Mark’s gospel invites his audience to know the private revelation of the Father to Jesus at his baptism. Jesus experienced the heavens being opened, the dove of the Holy Spirit, and the voice of the Father, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” He is drawing on the custom of the day for a father to claim responsibility for a child. Because there could be doubt who was the father of each child, the father had to claim that he was the father and take responsibility for the child. Mark’s community would see, in the simple declaration that is the last line of the gospel text, that God himself was declaring that he is the father of Jesus. If God has claimed Jesus as his son, what doubt or hesitation can stand before such a witness?
- What are some of the things you do as a sign of respect for another?
- What is it that makes a person worthy of those expressions of respect from you?
- What is society and the corporate world saying to you about your worth, and your value?
- What do you know about your own baptism? Why were you given your name? Why did your parents want you to be baptized?
- What meaning does your baptism have for you?
- What significance does the fact that Jesus went to be baptized by John have for you and your understanding of your relationship to God?
- If God desires today to say to you that you are God’s beloved daughter or son, how would God do that?
- How does God speak to you?
- Can you take some time now to talk to God about how important you feel your life is today, and how important your life is to God? If there is something you need from God or need to say to God, make sure you do that.