Sunday 8 January 2012

The Slave who is King - Is 55:1-11; 1 Jn 5:1-9; Mk 1:7-11

The feast of the Baptism of the Lord concludes the Advent-Christmas liturgical season, and is also the first Sunday in Ordinary Time.

While there are questions about some of the miracles that Jesus worked and some ask; “Did this really happen?” no one today doubts that the Baptism of Jesus was a historical event and really did take place. The reasons for this are not only that all the three Synoptic Gospels have narrated this event, but it can be seen from the manner in which they do so that at least Matthew and Luke are struggling with the narration and if given a choice would prefer not to narrate it. The reasons for this are that no community would have liked its Lord to have to undergo an act that showed that he had sin and that they would not have wanted him to be baptized by someone who was clearly inferior to him in rank. Thus while Matthew adds the dialogue between Jesus and John before Jesus’ baptism and John baptizes Jesus only after Jesus permits him , Luke has John in prison before the Baptism of Jesus and simply says “When the people had been baptized and when Jesus had also been baptized”. This indicates that though Matthew and Luke are loath to narrate the event they do so simply because it did take place. They also realized that it was a foundational event in the life of Jesus. His public ministry began after his baptism. Even in Mark, the baptism of Jesus after John’s lofty pronouncement of the more powerful one the thong of whose sandals John is not worthy to untie seems out of place. This suggests that Jesus associated himself with the need to gather the elect and to prepare for the Lord’s coming with a gesture of repentance.

Though there are differences in the first part of their narration, all three evangelists agree about the three events that took place at Jesus’ baptism. The first was that the “heavens were torn open”, the second was that the Holy Spirit came down on Jesus and the third was that a voice from heaven spoke.

In Mark, Jesus is the only one who sees the heavens open and the Spirit descend, and only he hears the divine voice. The heavens’ being torn open reflects a metaphor for the coming of God into human history to deliver his people. It reflects the prayer of Isaiah to God to repeat for one last time the great redemptive acts for his people. The dove imagery symbolizes the creative activity of the Spirit of God and also the coming of the Spirit for empowerment. Jesus is empowered and his unique status is confirmed by the Spirit which comes down from heaven. The climax, however, is what the voice from heaven says. It is clear that in Mark Jesus receives an invitation from God. This invitation is through the combination of two Old Testament texts. The first of these is Ps. 2:7 which says “You are my beloved Son” and the second is from Isa 42:1 which says “in you my soul delights”. Ps.2 is a coronation Psalm originally referring to the Davidic king. It was sung when the king was being placed on his throne and so has to do with coronation, sonship and kingship. It has to do with glory and power. Isa 42 is the first of the four suffering servant songs in the second book of Isaiah and so has to do with the crowning with thorns, with being servant and slave. This means that the voice invites Jesus to be King and Servant, to be Servant king and clearly in Mark to be King who becomes king by being servant.

That this is clearly Mark’s intention is confirmed by many indicators in his Gospel. Of these one stands out. This is the indicator given my Mark after the death of Jesus.
After the death of Jesus on the Cross, two incidents occur. The first is that the inner veil separating the holy of holies from the rest of the sanctuary is torn open, much like the heavens were torn open at the baptism. This might be intended to reveal that God is no longer present in the sanctuary or that now there is open access to God’s presence. It might also be that the torn veil foreshadowed the destruction of the Temple. While these interpretations are reasonable, it seems most likely, however, that Mark meant that true worship is now no longer in the Temple but on the Cross. The second incident that occurs after the death of Jesus is the Centurion’s confession. While at the baptism of Jesus it was the heavenly voice that called him “beloved Son”, here it is a human voice, the voice of a Gentile who calls Jesus “Son of God”. Jesus “becomes” Son of God and King on the Cross, when his arms are opened out in total surrender to the will of God. He accepted the invitation from God and responded to it wholeheartedly.

We too can dare to do so because of what God proposes in the first reading from Isaiah.  He will reverse judgements and offer once again waters that were once rejected. He promises an everlasting covenant which is enlarged to include all God’s people. God’s word, once delivered, maintains a sure continuity through time, accomplishing what God had planned originally: the salvation of all peoples.

Thus the feast of the Baptism of the Lord which begins the Ordinary time of the year is a feast which issues an invitation to each of us who are willing to hear. This invitation is according to the second reading of today to believe in Jesus as Son of the father. It is to believe that Jesus is indeed the Christ; God’s anointed one, the Messiah. This belief is shown in action be keeping God’s commandment of unconditional love, a love which Jesus manifested so clearly on the Cross. This means on other words that a believer in Jesus is willing to accept that pain is part of the human condition. That joy can be found even in the midst of pain, happiness can be found even in the midst of sorrow and hope is present even in seeming despair.

No comments:

Post a Comment

You may use the "Anonymous" option to leave a comment if you do not possess a Google Account. But please leave your name and URL as