Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on January 9, 2012

Gospel reading of the day:

Mark 1:7-11

This is what John the Baptist proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

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.”

Reflection on the gospel reading: We celebrate this Sunday the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the Jordan. There has been some effort by scholars to deduce where John got his idea for baptism. Some have seen in it hints of Jewish purification rituals, but modern scholarship seems to suggest that John probably invented the practice as an original religious rite of his own.

The gospel of Mark, like the gospels of Luke and Matthew, tells us that Jesus received John’s baptism in the Jordan and that Jesus’ baptism commenced his ministry. Scripture scholars generally concur that John indeed did baptize Jesus. Since John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance, and the early church would have proposed Jesus had nothing to repent, it makes no sense that the gospel writers would have made up the event. Making up the event would have required them to have to explain why someone who was sinless underwent a ritual of repentance. Even today, theologians struggle to explain the meaning of Jesus’ baptism. The evangelists reported it because it happened.

We perhaps can look into what transpired not just at Jesus’ baptism but what occurred after it to understand what Jesus’ baptism means. Each of the synoptic gospels suggests that the baptism represented a signal event in Jesus’ life.

First of all, there was some form of recognition. A voice from the heavens says, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Either Jesus came to an awareness of who he was and what his relationship was to God, or people around him arrived at this awareness. Perhaps there was some combination of the two alternatives.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke report that Jesus commenced his ministry, including teaching, healing, loving, prophesying, suffering, dying, and rising, as a result of the experience he had in the Jordan. In other words, it appears that baptism represented a line in Jesus life that demarcated one pattern of life from a subsequent pattern of life.

Although the pattern of our own baptism is present in the baptism of the Lord, it seems unlikely that our baptism is the same baptism that John preached and Jesus experienced. (In fact, Luke reports in the Acts of the Apostles that John’s disciples required a new baptism to become Christians.) Even so, we can learn the meaning and implications of our baptism by meditating on the Lord’s experience of his baptism. Our baptism is a recognition and a statement of our relationships to God, to the Church, and to every other baptized person: We are consecrated to an end and a purpose with unbreakable bonds. Moreover, we are baptized for a purpose, to teach, heal, love, prophesy, suffer, die, and rise. These ends are the unmistakable implications of what it means to be a baptized person, and they are the implications of our baptism that we learn from an appreciation of what Jesus’ baptism meant to him.

In the course of our lives, we may ignore our baptism, and we often do. We may do terrible things, and many of us who have received baptism do terrible things. But the fact of our baptism never changes, and we always have recourse in our life to the grace that flows from it. Baptism is a commitment and a promise. It is a relationship and a declaration of mission. It is a transformation and a connection to an intimate array of relationships to the baptized living and the baptized dead. All these things we celebrate as we celebrate the baptism of the Lord.

Spiritual reading: In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the holy Spirit.” (The Acts of the Apostles by Luke the Evangelist)

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