Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Mark 1:9-11.
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.”
It seems that much of this must be symbolism. John’s baptism of Jesus marked a point of transition in the unfolding of God’s plan. Jesus was not baptized as a sign of his repentance and God’s forgiveness. He was baptized as a sign of his turning from, transforming from, a private life to a public life, or going beyond the mind that he had up until that point as the Greeks understood “repentance.” Jesus represented the return from exile, leading followers to the promised land, the kingdom of God. It marked a transition from baptism by water to baptism by the Holy Spirit — from repentance of sin to an embrace of God’s kingdom, God’s ways. As Jesus said in Matthew, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force.” But John and Jesus both said that John was just preparing the way, making straight the path toward the kingdom of God. That was the path that Jesus now set forth upon, a path that stood up to violence intent upon keeping the kingdom of God at bay.
To this point in history God’s kingdom was separated into heaven and earth. Jesus’ baptism marked the end of this separation and a beginning of the reconciliation, the reuniting of heaven and earth. Thus, heaven was torn open, “not for a moment, but permanently” as John Shea writes in Eating with the Bridegroom. He quotes Francis Moloney’s The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary, “God has ripped the heavens apart irrevocably at Jesus’ baptism, never to shut them again. Through this gracious gash in the universe, he has poured forth his Spirit into the earthly realm.” What a remarkable changing point in God’s relationship with us!
He was no longer veiled in the inner sanctum of the temple, obscured from His people. He was now one of us, Emmanuel. His Spirit, the dove of peace and love, “does not merely descend ‘on’ him; it descends ‘into’ him, fully inhabiting his being and preparing him for his mission….A new divine-human condition is revealed,” as Shea writes. Jesus’ human and divine nature is melded into one. And God blessed him, whispering, “You are my beloved Son.” I have heard that whisper in my own ear, as if God were lifting me up and transporting me, as if I were given new life. That is the new life He gave Jesus, a new public life of ministry, of preaching His good news.
“With you I am well pleased.” Who doesn’t relish hearing those words from a parent? From time to time I do hear those words of blessing from God when I have been particularly diligent in following His path, in submitting to HIs will, to serving His children, my brothers and sisters. Letting these words sink deep inside me this morning, I long to hear them often. The promise of His love and blessing motivates me to put aside my selfishness and to let His spirit of love and peace permeate me. I’m inclined to repeat these words to myself at the start of each day. “Your are my beloved Son; with whom I am well pleased.” To be baptized with Jesus.