A new perspective is opened for us MARK 1:7-11
By Sr Gudrun Schellner SSM, Austria
The Baptism of the Lord marks the end of the Christmas Season. There is a big gap between Jesus, the Baby we celebrate at Christmas, and Jesus, the grown-up we encounter today – a gap of thirty years. What happened in those years we can only imagine. On the one hand, Jesus, fully human, lived a normal everyday life in His family, playing as a child, studying as a young boy, and later on working as a carpenter like Joseph, His father. On the other hand, we know from the Gospel of St Luke 2:52 that “Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.” He was liked by the people around Him as He grew up.
Today, shortly after Christmas, we celebrate the event that marks the beginning of His public teaching: Jesus comes to John the Baptist to be baptised in the river Jordan, standing in line among many other Jews. To me, this feast of the Baptism of the Lord proposes a threefold message.
Firstly, God is faithful and keeps His promises. John the Baptist stated clearly that someone more powerful than he had come to baptise with God’s Holy Spirit. This became a reality in Jesus. God is someone we can always trust – even though His scale of time does not always meet our expectations.
Secondly, Jesus, fully human, needed and got inner certainty. It may have been a last “push” for Him to start out on His public mission when He saw the heavens torn apart and heard a voice calling Him the beloved Son. The love He had experienced in His earthly family is now widened in an unsurpassable way. Jesus is God’s beloved Son. According to St Mark, only Jesus saw the open Heaven and heard the voice from Heaven; no one else. It is a very personal experience for Jesus, related with a minimum of words. Other than Matthew and Luke, Mark has no extra message for the reader, no exhortation that we should listen to the Son as we would to God Himself.
Thirdly, Heaven is torn apart. This is true for Jesus in a special way, but through Him it became true for all of us. Jesus’ baptism offers a new perspective. The words of St Stephen, the first martyr whom we have celebrated on December 26 come to my mind. He too, saw “the heavens opened,” but he also saw “the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).
Some translations even speak of the “heaven thrown open”. This is not just a soft opening, but it is an overwhelming, dramatic, even violent event. Nor is this open Heaven an empty space; someone is waiting there for us.
For me, this entails an important message of comfort: It is not I, the feeble human, who needs to draw Heaven open. I certainly would not be up to the task. Instead, it is God Himself who opens up Heaven for me. This is not just something to happen at some point in the future. Instead, it is reality even now in a time of pandemic, we are promised and given a greater view, a new perspective.
Most of us presumably do not recall our own baptism because we were baptised as a child. But this is exactly what we are celebrating today—We, too, are God’s beloved children, and Heaven has been opened for us. We are baptised into the death and resurrection of Jesus, His fate will be our fate. This can and will include suffering of all different kinds but in the end, it is the open Heaven that will be waiting for us. What we are called to do now is to come and to trust God’s promise.
The gospel reflections for January are by the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, a Catholic congregation of Franciscan religious sisters founded in Rome, Italy, in 1883, who serve worldwide, particularly in the field of healthcare. The Sisters serve in Italy, Austria, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Germany, the United States, Grenada, St Lucia, Tanzania and Trinidad and Tobago.