The Baptism of Christ, Verrocchio & da Vinci 1475, Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy.
……heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Luke 3:22.
Words highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.
The baptism of Jesus was so important an event that the gospel of Mark opens with it, with no background material of Jesus’ life at all, unlike Luke, from which today’s gospel reading is taken. It inaugurates Jesus’ ministry on earth. It is a Trinitarian statement of the greatest clarity, with the Father (the voice from heaven, seen as hands in the painting above), Jesus himself and the Holy Spirit in the form and likeness of a dove descending on him, anointing him. As in the other gospels, it seems Jesus was taken by surprise at this, and went into the desert for quite some time to figure out what exactly had happened to him in the Jordan. It was then that the truth had dawned on him, and he took up his cross, and accepted the vocation to which God had called him. So, at his baptism, Jesus discovered his identity, as God’s Son, and his vocation, to fulfill the prophecies as the long-awaited Messiah (a title meaning Anointed One) following his experience in the wilderness. Consequently, he knew who he was and what he was. And so, as the first reading tells us, he would now open the eyes of the blind with his divine power, bring out prisoners from their confinement which we can see when he released people from possession by the devil, which we might now call mental diseases, or captive to other dread diseases which barred them from normal life. And, as Scripture says, release people “from the dungeon, those who live in darkness” meaning, I would imagine, anyone trapped in guilt or pain or anything responsible for a paralysis of any description at all. In other words, it seems he was called by God to restore us to freedom, one of the qualities of God. Restored to freedom, we are able to praise God and live productively and happily. Remember one of the root meanings of blessed is happiness…
So Jesus, I believe, was called to be the prophet of freedom. In his vocation as Messiah, he had to echo and embody the divine qualities God had revealed through the centuries of the Old Testament. For example, God had promised Abram/Abraham, a man approaching 100 years old, and his not much younger barren wife Sarai/Sarah, a son. Sarah had laughed at this promise (Genesis 18:9-15) even arguing with God over it! But a child she did indeed have, Isaac. That displayed two qualities of God, power and loyalty, that God had the power to enable a barren, very old lady to have a child, and to come through on his promise. They are but two of God’s qualities. But perhaps the most significant event in the Old Testament was the commission given to Moses at the Burning Bush when God said “I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt” (Exodus 3:7) and had heard their cry under their bondage (Exodus 2:23-24), and determined that their slavery must end, and that they would receive a land which God had promised to them. Hence God listens to us, and believes in freedom from oppression. One other thing: Moses asked God what name he should give, knowing that the enslaved Hebrews would demand to know that. And for the first time, God told him: YHWH, יהוה (YHWH (Ya- We) or YHVH (Ye-Ho-Va)) the divine name which devout Jews to this day will not utter. We Christians have decided the pronunciation is Yahweh, meaning I Am Who Am. This established a personal relationship between God and Moses, and through Moses to the people, something unknown among all the pagan gods of that time. That quality was also taken to ineffable heights in Jesus’ ministry at the Last Supper: “Take and eat, this is my Body; take and drink, this is my Blood” . No closer union can be conceived than that, the uniquely close union or relationship of the Lord with ourselves.
Moses and the Burning Bush, c.1175, Évangéliaire d’Averbode, University of Liège, Belgium.
So today’s feast heralds in the ministry of the Lord, in which all the qualities God had shown in the previous centuries were confirmed and taken to inconceivable heights by this Son of God. We are Christ to the world. These same qualities, and the others not mentioned here, such as forgiveness, and mercy, should be our hallmarks as the devoted followers of the Lord. And do not think ever that they are beyond our abilities. Just one example, power. We all have power, even children. Ask any child: can you make your mother unhappy today by behaving badly? Yes. Can you make her happy by behaving well? Yes. We all have power, in our speech, our behavior, our example. We can embody all of God’s qualities if we so choose. Jesus realized that at his baptism and his time in the desert, and followed through with them. So should we, also baptized, and also enjoying our identity as a child of God, with our vocation to be Christ to the world through our own talents and skills, following his perfect example.
The Supper at Emmaus, Stom c.1639, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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