Year B Baptism of the Lord: Mark 1:7-11

1:07 In the course of his preaching he said,
'After me is coming someone who is more powerful than me,
and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals.
1:08 I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.'
1:09 It was at this time that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee
and was baptised in the Jordan by John.
1:10 And at once, as he was coming up out of the water,
he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him.
1:11 And a voice came from heaven,
'You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.'


In the first line Mark shows us Jesus as ‘Messiah’ and ‘son of God’. But the Good Message of this Jesus ‘begins’ (vs.1) with John ‘the Baptist’ who preaches a ‘mind-changing’ baptism for the forgiveness of sins (1:4). Then we hear that Jesus comes to John to be baptized.


He saw the heavens torn apart...’ (vs.10). These words remind us of a prayer of the prophet Isaiah we prayed on the first Sunday of the Advent, ‘Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down...’ (Isaiah 64:1). What Isaiah was asking in his prayer happens at this very moment of Jesus’ baptism. Mark’s way to present Jesus as the fulfilling of the old promises..., as God’s word becoming history, salvation history..., as ‘son of God’, confirmed by the words we hear from heaven, ‘You are my son...’ Mark describes it very beautifully, playing with words: on the one hand Jesus ascends from the water and the Spirit descends from heaven upon him. In Jesus, an encounter takes place between heaven and earth.


The spirit on Jesus ascending from the water reminds us of the creation story, ‘In the beginning God made heaven and earth. And the earth was invisible and unformed; and darkness was upon the abyss, and the spirit of God was rushing over the waters’ (Genesis 1:1-2, transl. Nic. King). After that, it is told that the world was created and emerged. Does Mark suggest - by telling that the Spirit of God was rushing over Jesus coming from the water - that it was the beginning of a new creation? This impression seems to be confirmed since Mark compares the spirit to a dove. That reminds us of the story of Noah who sent out a dove over the waters (!) to find out if already a new world came forward from the waters (cfr. Genesis 8:11).

In short, in this story of Jesus’ baptism a promising new beginning is sparkling, a new creation. It tells us that from now all the things Jesus will do and all the words Jesus will speak are inspired by that spirit from heaven, whatever his opponents may think or say.


Yet there is something enigmatic in it. Remember, in his first line Mark shows us Jesus as ‘Messiah’ and ‘son God’. Then he shows John the Baptist preaching a baptism for the forgiveness of sins...  And Jesus came to be baptized!? Did the one who some moments ago was presented to us as a Messiah and son of God..., did he need a baptism for the forgiveness of sins?

I don’t think so. But what then can be the meaning of this baptism? Let us have a look. Who wanted to be baptized? Those who knew that there was something wrong in their lives..., who wanted to get rid of it..., who hoped that there would be forgiveness..., who were longing for a new beginning. Those are the people Jesus is joining. Among them is his place. By joining these people (me?) he does the things God likes to see, ‘You see, by doing so Jesus makes clear that he has my DNA, that he is my son, my beloved son.’

Picture Meditation

This picture is a detail of the big Mark painting of Peter Clare we presented at the beginning of the Liturgical Year B, the Mark Year.

In the centre: Jesus, ascending from the water of the river Jordan. He sees indeed the dove of God’s spirit descending upon him. Besides him: John the Baptist; all his attention goes to Jesus. In the water and in the lower left corner people who are baptized. In the upper left corner all the people who are on their way to be baptized. And who is the naked figure in the lower right corner, pointing at Jesus? Isn’t it the prophet Isaiah, making clear that his prophecies become true in the person of Jesus?

Looking at this picture, I ask myself if I would have come to John the Baptist to receive the baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Are there moments in my life which still hurt? Scratches in my soul by doing the wrong things, by taking the wrong decisions, by hurting other people, by living irreparable separations...? If so, can I believe that Jesus joins me exactly in that pain; comes besides me and accompanies me right there?

It is possible that the nakedness of all these people disturbs me. But to be baptized I have to be naked. That is more than just a physical matter. To be baptized - that is to admit that there are wrong things in my life - I have to be honest, to open myself, to be uncovered. It is the world of the paradise before the fall! It means that I have the courage to show my vulnerability, as Jesus does at this very moment and as he will do at the end of his life...

by Fr Dries van den Akker SJ