By Father Jean-Pierre Ruiz
This is the mystery with which the reading of the Gospel presents us for this solemnity. The Gospel of Mark tells us how “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” and how the people “from all the land of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem that they have confessed their sins. ” In fact, the evangelist tells us that “in those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized into the Jordan by John.” What could have led Jesus to the banks of the Jordan River?
The evangelist does not seem to be bothered by this, even though he told us how John announced: “Someone stronger than me is coming after me. I’m not worthy to bend over and loosen the straps of his sandals. I baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. “
What seems to have left Mark undisturbed worried Matthew and Luke quite a bit. Researchers acknowledge that the Gospel of Mark was the oldest, and that both Matthew and Luke relied on Mark for the narrative outline of their own Gospels. For this reason, these three are called the “synoptic” Gospels. As for the Gospel of John, scientists remain undecided whether John knew about the Synoptic Gospels. After telling us that “Jesus came from Galilee to John in the Jordan to be baptized by him,” Matthew puts the obvious objection on the lips of the Baptist, explaining how John tried to stop him, saying, “I must be baptized. by you”. and yet you come to me? ”
Jesus answers, “Forgive him now, for we must do all righteousness” (Matthew 3: 14-15), and only then will John sink him into the waters of the Jordan. The words of the Baptist reveal the displeasure of the moment, aware that Jesus is the most powerful “who will not baptize with water, but with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
In Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism, we read that “After all the people were baptized, and Jesus was baptized and prayed, the heavens were opened” (Luke 3:21). Luke seems to be passing the baptism of Jesus quickly, focusing instead on what happens after Jesus comes out of the waters of the Jordan. The Gospel of John does not even mention the baptism of Jesus. Instead, the evangelist tells us that when John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
What becomes clear as we compare the Gospels is that, even during the few decades of the first century that separates the oldest Gospel (Mark) from the most recent (John), there is a growing emphasis. on the distinctive character of Jesus as the Son of God. When Jesus comes to the Jordan, there is no indication that John recognizes him. After his baptism, the Gospel of Mark tells us that only Jesus is the one who sees the Holy Spirit descending upon him like a dove, only Jesus who hears a heavenly voice saying, “You are my beloved Son; I’m happy with you. ” Mark does not say whether John the Baptist or any of those gathered at the Jordan saw or heard anything, yet the evangelist gives us the privilege of knowing that Jesus is the beloved Son of God, sharing with us what Jesus saw and heard.
In the Gospel of John, written just decades after Mark’s testimony of Jesus, we read how John the Baptist declared: “I saw the Spirit descending like a dove from heaven, and it remained upon him. I did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “Whoever sees the Spirit descending and remains, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God ”(John 1: 32-34). As Christians, we profess faith in the full humanity and divinity of Jesus. The truth of the incarnation means that Jesus did not just appear to be human. Baptized in the waters of the Jordan like so many others, the eternal Son of God became truly human in all things except sin, so fully human that John the Baptist could recognize him only by a gift of divine revelation as the Son of God. God’s. As we celebrate the baptism of Jesus, let us be thankful that the beloved Son of God himself has completely immersed himself in our human condition so that by the grace of our baptism we can receive the wonderful gift of eternal life.
Readings for the Baptism of the Lord
Isaiah 42: 1-4, 6-7 or Is 55: 1-11
Psalm 29: 1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10
Acts 10: 34-38
Mark 1: 7-11
Father Ruiz, pastor of the Brooklyn Diocese, is a professor of theology at St. Paul’s University. John, Jamaica.