11 January 2009


Feast of the Lord’s Baptism
Mk 1:7-11

This year, our principal guide in reading the story of Jesus is St. Mark. He was one of the great early Christians who wrote the very first gospel we have. The early Christian communities did not immediately see the need to write the story of Jesus. There were two reasons for this: first, the apostles were still with them; and second, they expected Jesus to return during their lifetime. Due to these reasons, they surmised that writing the story of Jesus was simply a waste of time – no one would be around to read it anyway! But, thirty years after Jesus ascended into heaven, their view changed. Jesus had not returned yet and the apostles were being martyred one after the other. Thereupon, it became clear to all that it was of paramount importance to put in order the tradition of stories about Jesus and write them down before they were forgotten. St. Mark was the first to have done that. He invented the gospel. And the rest of the evangelists followed his initiative. At present we have, aside from Mark’s, the gospels of John, Luke, and Matthew as our officially recognized gospels.

When Matthew and Luke wrote their gospels, they started by narrating the stories surrounding the birth of Jesus. We read and reflect on them during the Christmas season. Luke has an angelic choir announcing to shepherds the joy of Jesus’ birth. Matthew has magi or wise men from the East, coming to Jerusalem and disturbing many with the news of the newborn King of the Jews. In these stories alone, we already see the early recognition of the greatness of Jesus.

But in the gospel of Mark, there is no dramatic entrance for Jesus. He who was the first to have written the gospel began his narration of the story of Jesus not with the details of Jesus’ birth but with His baptism by John the Baptist. Following closely Mark’s description, Jesus seemed to have quietly emerged from nowhere. Jesus had very humble beginnings. And from that nowhere, Jesus was called for a very special and unique mission. The beginning that Jesus made was also the beginning of the gospel of Mark.

According to Mark, many people were going to John the Baptist to be baptized: from Judea and even people from Jerusalem journeyed, seeking John. Many people from the south of Israel were captivated by the preaching of John and were inspired to join his movement of renewal. Jesus was one of them.

But Jesus was neither from Judea nor from Jerusalem. Jesus was from Galilee, a province north of Palestine. Galilee was not known for religious fidelity. Once, when Nicodemus was defending Jesus, one of the Pharisees even said to him, “Go and see for yourself: no prophet comes from Galilee” (Jn 7:52). Galilee was known for its armed rebels hiding in its mountain ranges; not for prophets. But Jesus would change all that.

And today, as Christmas ends, that change starts to take shape.

The baptism of John the Baptist was called a “Baptism of Repentance”. Those who went to him to be baptized were self-confessed sinners seeking forgiveness from God. Though without even the slightest sin, Jesus fell in line with sinners. He identified Himself with them without being contaminated by their sins. Jesus had Himself baptized by John – signaling the start of His public ministry. Jesus had Himself baptized with sinners – revealing that He would fulfill His ministry without treating sinners as outcasts as dictated by Judaic society and even by Judaic religion. Jesus had Himself baptized with sinners in public – signifying that He would do His kind of ministry not in any hidden way but in the sight of all.

The beginning of Jesus is the new beginning of God: through the Person of Jesus, God involves Himself in the life of people in a new and a better way. In Jesus Himself, we see that God minds our life.

According to Mark, emerging from the river after being baptized by John, Jesus saw the heavens opened, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove, and a voice was heard from the heavens: “You are My Son, the Beloved; My favor rests on You.” Again, following closely Mark’s description, Jesus alone saw and heard all these. It seems that Mark was saying that all these unusual happenings were hidden from the crowd around Jesus and John. The ordinary event of Jesus’ going to John was witnessed by all yet the extraordinary event right after Jesus emerged from the River Jordan was concealed to all. Humble beginnings. Quiet beginnings.

Quiet beginnings but loud consequences in the life of every man and woman, including you and I. People who have a flair for loud beginnings but never finish what they begin, need to learn this lesson: Great beginnings do not always ensure great endings. But small beginnings do not necessarily mean small endings.

To each of us, God entrusted a mission. How do we begin it? How do we accomplish it? How do we conclude it? If, indeed, we are disciples of Christ, we will always strive to carry out our mission as Jesus carried out His. Jesus became one like us – except sin – It is now our turn to strive to become like Him. This should be our main concern not only this new year but throughout our entire life. We, too, have been baptized. Not BY John but IN Christ.


At 4:08 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Lord Jesus, as You marked Your baptism in the Jordan River, bless us with Your Holy Spirit as we start to face another year of journey in life. Walk with us hand in hand and give us the strength to bear patiently all the burdens and trials in life as we do our best, leaving the rest up to You.

O loving Jesus, I place all my Trust in You. Amen. - rory


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