Breath of the Spirit
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Some of us might still be wandering around, not quite certain what God has in mind for us. Perhaps we’ve yet to give ourselves over completely to the risen Jesus, present and working in our daily lives.
JANUARY 11, 2015: BAPTISM OF JESUS
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
When most of us hear the word “annunciation,” we immediately think of Gabriel’s unique encounter with Mary in Luke 1. Those more familiar with Scripture would add Joseph’s angelic dream in Matthew 1. But only the most biblically sophisticated would turn to today’s gospel pericope describing Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist.
Given our Christian background, we can see why Mary and Joseph need to be informed about their role in salvation history. But given that same Christian background, we can’t understand why Jesus needs an annunciation. He’s God from all eternity; the second person of the Trinity. If he doesn’t know what his role is in salvation history, we’re all in trouble.
Of course, it’s easy to forget that much of our personal Christian background came from catechisms, not Scripture. We learned about our faith in the context of a question/answer format; not from biblical narratives and letters. Coming from a Greek thinking mindset, we were expected to analyze people and situations around us, always trying to reach an either/or conclusion about them.
We ignore the fact that our sacred authors lived and expressed themselves in a Semitic, not a Greek thinking world. Instead of intellectually tearing people and situations apart with analysis, they synthetized, looking at them from every possible angle, continually surfacing different (sometimes contradictory) aspects. Like Fiddler on the Roof’s Tevye, their favorite line was, “But on the other hand . . . .” When they finally finished thinking, they always couched their conclusions in a both/and, not an either/or statement. Unlike modern, Greek thinking Christians, they didn’t hesitate to give differing theological opinions about the same person or situation.
This is especially true when it comes to what the late Fr. Raymond Brown in his classic book, the Birth of the Messiah, referred to as the “Christological moment:” at what point in his existence does Jesus become God? The answer varies from Paul’s belief in Romans 1 that it happened at his resurrection to John’s conviction that he was God from all eternity.
In today’s Marcan pericope, the Christological moment either takes place at Jesus’ baptism, or the Father makes him aware of who he is at that event. (That could be why there’s no Infancy Narrative in Mark. The evangelist probably didn’t believe Jesus was God during that part of his existence.) Notice that, unlike the voice from heaven during Jesus’ transfiguration which announces, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!” the baptismal voice proclaims, “You are my beloved Son; with whom I am well pleased.” Here the heavenly voice is announcing something to Jesus, not to his disciples.
Considering the Baptizer’s baptism revolved around someone’s determination to give himself or herself completely to Yahweh, this would be a turning point in the Galilean carpenter’s life. And, according to Mark’s theology, it’s in his total giving of himself that Jesus both discovers who he is, and his role in God’s plan of salvation.
From Luke’s mention in Acts that Jesus’ public ministry began only after “the baptism that John preached,” we can be fairly certain that event historically triggered something in Jesus that wasn’t there before. Like Deutero-Isaiah in today’s first reading, he’s now determined to be Yahweh’s special servant, to bring God’s consoling word to all who will listen.
Some of us might still be wandering around, not quite certain what God has in mind for us. Perhaps we’ve yet to give ourselves over completely to the risen Jesus, present and working in our daily lives. The historical Jesus would be the first to tell us, “Let go! Take that step!” It’ll be interesting to reflect on what we discover about ourselves when we finally make that decision. Bet we surface lots of “both/ands.”