25 February 2021
The supporting cast in the story of the Baptism of Christ
Reading: Mark 1: 9 – 15
Scripture:”…Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” (Mark 1:9)
Reflection: The Gospel writer doesn’t pay much attention to John in this rendering of the Baptism of Jesus. John seems to exist only as a backdrop to the story of Jesus launching his public ministry. In Mark, John seems to literally “appear” (v.4) out of nowhere. But in the back of our minds, we know John. He was Jesus’ cousin. (It looks like it would have been a second cousin once removed.)
When Mary went to visit her much older “cousin” Elizabeth, the six-month old foetus started kicking and moving excitedly in Elizabeth’s womb. At that time Mary would have been about 3 months pregnant, barely showing. Yet this developing child who would be named John seemed to recognise the developing child who would be named Jesus. (Luke 1: 41-44) Elizabeth knew the child she was carrying was special. After all, she and her husband Zechariah had never been able to have children. Elizabeth had gotten to the age where she had given up hope of bearing a child and did her best to endure the comments of the people in her village who had everything to say about her “barrenness”, Zechariah had laughed in Gabriel’s face when he told him he would become a father. He was so argumentative, the angel had to silence him. Imagine him trying to share his experience with his wife Elizabeth when he got home.
So, when John was born, both his parents knew he was special. Elizabeth knew because even before his birth, he made his presence known and the Holy Spirit descended on her upon Mary entering her house. He was special because he brought his parents joy in their later years. His birth silenced the villagers who gossiped about poor Elizabeth daily. His birth testified to what was possible, even when everyone had given up hope.
As children and young adults, it is very likely that John and Jesus spent time together, as Mary visited Elizabeth and vice versa. Both boys knew about the circumstances of their birth. John’s father had declared that he, John, would be called “the Prophet of the Most High”. John would probably have deduced that he and Jesus had roles to play together in the future and, more than once they maybe sat together and tried to imagine what their mission was going to be. Increasingly, John spent his time out in the open spaces and mountains of Judea, opening himself to the leading of the Spirit, sustaining himself with what he could forage in that unfriendly environment. Eventually he emerged from the desert to begin preaching repentance, and baptising those willing to acknowledge the extent of their separation from the will of God.
Having accepted his role as the “Forerunner” you can appreciate how shocked John would have been when Jesus came to him to be baptised. In the gospel of John the Evangelist (1: 29-34), John sees Jesus, his cousin approaching and has a revelatory experience. You can imagine that he may have asked God several times when the Messiah whom he was foretelling, would actually arrive. John the Evangelist’s gospel indicates that John was told to look out for someone who came to be baptised who manifested the presence of the Holy Spirit. Maybe John glanced up from his labours on the bank of the Jordan and glimpsed Jesus approaching. Imagine how he must have done a double take, when he saw not just his cousin, but his cousin encompassed by the Holy Spirit! He was the Messiah!
John has no idea what to do when Jesus seeks baptism. The Messiah, the King, the one who would free them from their terrible bondage under the Romans. He, John, was to baptise him? No way! It is Jesus who should be doing the baptising. In Matthew’s version of the story, Jesus quietens him. No, it is God’s will that he be baptised. Perhaps John recalls those days they may have spent together in Galilee. They had known that both of them were “special”. He remembers his Auntie Mary coming back from their trip to Jerusalem and telling them how they thought they had lost Jesus, only to trudge back to the Temple to find Jesus keeping up ‘argument’ with the priests and the elders. He should have known. Matthew says that John “consented” to baptise Jesus, an action accompanied by yet another demonstration of the presence of God’s Spirit.
Prayer: Holy God, Your knowledge of me exceeds what I grasp or see at any moment in time. You know me better than I know myself. Help me to trust in Your mercy, to see myself in the light of Your holiness. Grant me the grace that I may have true contrition, make an honest confession, and find in You, forgiveness and perfect remission. Amen. [from Forward Day by Day]
The St. Jude’s Writers
St. Jude’s Church
Anglican Diocese of Jamaica and The Cayman Islands
25 February 2021