Baptism of the Lord B
The Commentaries Summarised
As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.
This Sunday's Commentary
The issue of the identity of Jesus is the central theme around which the Gospel of Mark is structured. We, the readers, know from the outset that Jesus is Son of God as proclaimed in the title. But what does this mean? Too easily human ideas can seek to confine, define and thus distort the salvation that Jesus brings to the human race. Mark counters this by carefully revealing through the Gospel who Jesus is against a background of ongoing misunderstanding and antagonism which eventually leads to his death. At this, the centurion is to the one who proclaims a true understanding of his identity.
The story of Jesus’ Baptism is one of the three times that Mark clearly states who Jesus is and forms, along with the Transfiguration and the centurion’s proclamation at the Crucifixion, a structuring pole of the Gospel. John the Baptist has been preaching in the desert, urging people to confess their sins. The description of John reminds the reader of the prophets of Israel, especially Elijah who was to be the forerunner of the Messiah. The ‘quotation’ from Isaiah encapsulates all the longing of the people of Israel for the consolation of God. John stresses the holiness of the One coming after him: before him he is not even worthy to do the work of a slave in untying his sandal strap. Then Jesus emerges from a Nazareth, a town in the outlying province of Galilee and joins the queue to be baptised along with the repentant sinners responding to John’s call. Immediately our ideas (and John’s, for that matter) of what Messiah and salvation might mean are challenged.
Then as Jesus emerges from the water, image upon image from the Jewish tradition, confirms that Jesus is not only the One who is to come, the promised Messiah…but even more. The heavens are ‘rent open’ ending the long drought of divine communication for the people. The Spirit, like a dove, descends reminding us of his role over the waters at creation in Genesis. Then God speaks declaring this Jesus his Beloved Son. And what is the cause of God’s favour? Being Son of God surely, but also perhaps in his willingness to being identified with humanity, even in its sinfulness. Who is this Jesus going to be? We know have to be challenged through this Gospel, hoping that we too can come to the centurion’s understanding and faith.