LIVING THE LECTIONARY 3

Mark 1: 1-11 The Baptism of the Lord

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send my messenger before thy face,
who shall prepare thy way;
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight—”

4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, and had a leather girdle around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

The Baptism of Jesus

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; 11 and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

I reserved this passage for this week because we are baptising three baby boys, triplets, at our service on Sunday. In the present crisis of the Church of Scotland local churches are urged to use Baptism as an evangelical sacrament which helps the church to grow through the active discipleship of families, in the upbringing of children. In this regard it is important that Jesus was baptised.

It cannot have been comfortable for the first Christian believers, the memory that Jesus was baptised by John the Dipper, a great prophet of Jewish faith, who was followed even after his death by disciples who did not really know of Jesus, a fact that sheds doubt on the gospel depiction of Jesus as John’s approved successor. It’s entirely possible to see John’s quoted prophecy as applying to the Messiah-to-come rather than Jesus.

But the awkward fact from the viewpoint of Christian belief in Messiah Jesus, is that he was baptised by John, in his ministry directed to sinful Israelites needing baptism, like Gentiles who had to be baptised into Jewish faith. Surely such a ritual was utterly inappropriate for Jesus! The gospel writers deal with this issue in different ways. Mark, the first to tackle it, refuses to explain Jesus’ motivation, but makes it clear that he decided it would be right in humility at the start of his ministry; and that in it God confirmed to him his status as a beloved child. Ironically a Roman soldier repeats this confirmation after Jesus’ execution. Jesus, who for Mark is always the crucified and risen Son of God, identifies himself with sinful and struggling human beings at his baptism and throughout his ministry.

This identification is a theological choice of the author, not a personal historical choice of Jesus who doubtless never thought of himself as other than human. He may have been historically a disciple of. John.

Nevertheless it is the element in Mark’s story which allows the reader to identify with Jesus in receiving God’s acknowledgement, “You are my beloved son, in you I am well pleased.” In the church’s baptism, the person baptised is identified with Jesus as the beloved child of God, sharing with him the delight of the father. This identification is on the other hand shared with all living beings, from elephant to virus, who are equally God’s children and the subject of his/her delight.

Baptism is not only an evangelical sacrament, but also an ecological one, which celebrates God’s whole creation, rather than merely humanity, making it especially relevant to a time of ecological disaster. Parents are the bearers of this meaning to their baptised children, through the love they show to them and to the creatures of the earth. Part of this love is their raising their children in the faith and friendship of the church, the one body on earth which proclaims this truth. ???

PS That last sentence is a piece of nonsense, given that religious bodies like the Jains, along with some Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists have proclaimed it for a long time, and the bulk of the Christian church is still knee deep in the sort of humanism that pays no attention to animals. My only excuse is that the church is waking up to an ecological gospel, which will transform its thought and action.

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