Take Me to the River
by PETER JOHN CAMERON OP
Jan. 12, 1997
The Baptism of the Lord
Mk 1, 7-11
WHEN THE evangelist goes out of his way to give us special details in the lean Gospel of Mark, we do well to pay attention. The shortness of Mark's Gospel can be deceiving. Its brevity might tempt us to think that it is less important or comprehensive than the other Gospels. However, the poetic economy Mark employs in narrating the life of Christ calls us to be particularly heedful of its contents.
In five short verses today, Mark tells us so much. Jesus proves the authenticity of John's prophetic preaching by appearing on the scene: “One more powerful than I is to come after me.” But the question arises: If Jesus is more powerful than John, then why does Jesus lower himself actually to turn to the Baptizer to be baptized? This action recounted in Mark's Gospel—which does not contain an Infancy Narrative—is the way Jesus identifies with all human beings in their weakness, humility and need.
Coming to John to be baptized is the first thing Jesus does in the Gospel of Mark. Although he remains supremely more powerful than John or any other human person, the initial impression Jesus wants us to have of him is that he is one of us. He is like us in the way we depend upon each other. Although himself sinless, Jesus is not afraid to be identified with sinners. He docilely approaches the baptismal pool of the Jordan to show us just how approachable he is.
But Jesus does not merely want to assure us of the genuineness of his humanity. He also honors us by drawing us into the glory of his divinity. Immediately on coming up out of the water, “a voice came from the heavens: ‘You are my beloved Son. On you my favor rests.’” What could have remained a private pronouncement to Jesus becomes a public revelation for all those gathered together to confess their sins.
We celebrate the baptism of the Lord to remember how the Father overtly acknowledges Jesus before the world: Jesus is God's “beloved,” his “Son,” and the bearer of his divine “favor.” All those who hear this divine voice in a spirit of true repentance can be certain that what God confides from the heavens becomes the source of our confidence on earth. The Father who acclaims Jesus as his beloved and favored child longs for us to share in that same status. If we come to Jesus to undergo the baptism of his Passion, as Jesus comes to John, then the Father's voice of joy and delight will resound in our lives as well.
The baptism of John prepares God's people for the coming of the Messiah, “who will baptize you in the Holy Spirit.” Christ's baptism in the Jordan, which prefigures his death and Resurrection, awakens our hope to the glory to be revealed in us. The baptism by John disposes us to be receptive of Jesus’presence, while the baptism by Jesus imparts to us the very life of God. If we are not with Jesus at his earthly baptism, we might never believe he has the power to minister the eternal one.
Father Cameron is a professor of homiletics at St. Joseph Seminary, Yonkers, N.Y.