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Breath of the Spirit

Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.



Breath of the Spirit is our electronic spiritual and liturgical resource for our members and potential members. Nothing can replace your chapter or other faith community but we hope you will find further support here for integrating your spirituality with your sexuality and all the strands of your life.


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JANUARY 10TH, 2016: BAPTISM OF JESUS


Without annunciations we can presume that biblical personalities lived lives quite similar to our own, often asking why God placed them in specific situations, in relationships with particular people. It usually takes a lifetime to make sense out of a lifetime. Rarely are there shortcuts.


Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
Acts 10:34-38
Luke 3:15-16, 21-22


Our annual March 25th feast of the Annunciation always creates problems for teachers and students of Scripture. The celebration revolves around Gabriel’s well-known encounter with Mary narrated in Luke 1. But as any critical reader of Scripture knows, that’s only one of four gospel annunciations concerning Jesus of Nazareth. Totally independent of Mary’s annunciation, Joseph has an angelic experience at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel. And both Mark and Luke – in today’s gospel pericope – also provide an annunciation to Jesus as part of his baptismal experience. (Of course, the evangelists also supply us with annunciations to Jesus’ disciples both in their transfiguration narratives and in Matthew’s baptismal passage. But we’ll leave those aside for the time being.)

As I mentioned two weeks ago in my Holy Family Sunday commentary, biblical annunciations are literary devices created by our sacred authors to point out the meaning of the events they’re narrating. They’re included for the sake of the readers, not the biblical participants. Though they’re important for helping us understand our biblical writers’ beliefs and theologies, the vast majority of Scripture scholars don’t take these passages literally.

Without annunciations we can presume that biblical personalities lived lives quite similar to our own, often asking why God placed them in specific situations, in relationships with particular people. It usually takes a lifetime to make sense out of a lifetime. Rarely are there shortcuts.

It would seem the historical Jesus originally conceived of himself simply as a disciple of John the Baptizer. Practically every source employed by our Christian sacred authors associate him with this prophetic individual. Notice what Peter tells Cornelius in our Acts passage. “You know . . . what has happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached . . . .?” Yet once John was arrested and eventually martyred, Jesus had to change his plans. He not only takes over John’s ministry, he becomes even greater than his mentor.

That’s why Luke’s John tells Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me.” We presume no one around Jesus and John would have realized the former’s superiority to the latter until after John’s arrest and martyrdom, long after Jesus and John’s original relationship was formed, eventually solidified by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Luke obviously inserted late first century CE theology into a passage which narrates events which took place 40 or 50 years before.

In a parallel way, the call narratives of the classic Jewish prophets are always the last sections of the prophetic books to take form. Today’s Deutero-Isaiah pericope is a classic example. Only toward the end of his ministry does this unnamed prophet begin to understand the uniqueness of his call. Though he’s certain he’s a prophet, it takes him a lifetime to understand how unlike other prophets he is. He doesn’t tear into people like most of his prophetic predecessors. On the contrary, not only does he build up where others tear down, he eventually begins to understand that even non-Jews – the coastlands and the nations – will benefit from his ministry.

Is it possible that it also took time for the historical Jesus to discover his own uniqueness? After all, remember that the author of the letter to the Hebrews was convinced that he was a human being like all of us except in sin. I take for granted that means if we only discover who we are gradually, so did Jesus.

Strange things happen when we begin to understand annunciations as the literary devices our sacred authors intended them to be. We might actually be able to identify with certain individuals we’d never dared identify before – including Jesus of Nazareth. ​


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