Updated: Feb 3
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
This is the Gospel selection for the first Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B 2018. It will next be read aloud in church by a priest on Sunday, January 7, 2018. It is important because it tells of John the Baptist foretelling of one greater than he, who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. It then tells of Jesus seeing the sky open and the Spirit descend upon him like a dove.
Mark 1:4-8 was read during the second Sunday of Advent, where the wilderness setting and the dress of John was compared to that history recorded Biblically of Elijah. The point of restating that here is to re-establish the background that sets up Jesus going to be baptized by John. The baptism of Jesus is what I will address here in this interpretation.
The focus needs to be understood as on the season of Epiphany, which is manufactured by the Church, with good reason (albeit reason that has been forgotten). The season (weeks) of Epiphany is based on the coming of Easter, with forty days of Lent and Holy Week backing up to determine when Epiphany ends (the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday). In the 2018 Epiphany season there will be six Sundays after the Epiphany. Thus, this reading from Mark is the first that is designed to highlight the manifestation of Christ within a newborn Saint.
Jesus was holy, is holy, and will always be holy, so he did not need someone to bring about his baptism of the Holy Spirit, nor did he need to have an epiphany about his righteousness. Everything presented in Scripture is not meant to be externalized, onto people past, other people in powerful positions, or hopes placed upon future persons. Instead, all the lessons of Scripture are intended to be internalized in the present self. “How do I fit into this reading?” is always the question to ask.
In this particular Gospel reading, the questions should be, “How am I John?” “How am I Jesus?” “How am I seen by God?” And, “Has the Holy Spirit lit upon me?” to list a few.
By realizing this personalization of the Church seasons, with Christmas being the birth of baby Jesus within a believer, baptism by water becomes the automatic first step towards a marriage to God, where that union will result in the “virgin birth” of the Son of God. That baptism is then symbolized by the water of emotions, where the believer becomes like John, living in a wilderness that denies self all the sinful luxuries the world has to offer. Like John, one seeks to help others recognize the importance of repentance, where flowing emotions purify one’s sinful guilt. However, beyond repentance and sacrifice, there is a greater presence still to come: the appearance of Jesus Christ.
This is one’s personal Epiphany.
This reading, specifically verses 9 – 11, is often referred to as “The baptism of Jesus.” Let me repeat: When an archangel comes and tells a sixteen year old virgin girl she will give birth to a son, who is to be named Jesus (meaning Yah Will Save) and that Jesus “will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David” (Luke 1:32), then Jesus was born with the Holy Spirit within him. He did not require a baptism, although the event in the Jordan signaled the time had come for his official ministry to begin.
Still, because the same archangel visited Elizabeth and foretold the coming of John (name meaning Yahweh Is Gracious), telling her, “he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15), John the baptizer was filled with the Holy Spirit too. However, John just was not allowed by God to give the Holy Spirit to others, as his ministry was to wash clean (symbolically with water) those who willingly repented their sins.
It is important to realize that the Jews had strict rules about purification, where water was used to clean physical impurities.
Women routinely needed to stay away from the synagogue during their mensural cycle and following delivery of a child, as they were deemed unclean. Ritual scheduling demanded the impure to bathe in water when discharges of bodily fluids had ceased. It was water stored in jugs for that purpose that Jesus turned into wine at the wedding party in Cana. Still, men who had rashes and other skin lesions were forbidden from entering the synagogues until after such visible signs of impurity had cleared, when they too were required to wash in purifying waters. Thus, water washed off the outward reflections of sin; but some sins were invisible, and it was those John symbolically cleansed.
By understanding that routine use of water to purify the Jews, one can see Jesus entering the Jordan for baptism by water as a Roman Catholic would routinely enter a confessional and repent to an unseen priest. Knowing his ministry was close to beginning, Jesus needed public absolution more as a ceremonial purification, prior to his ordination as a rabbi – a teacher of disciples.
Not a water closet, but emotions should swirl within.
Mark did not detail the exchange between John and Jesus, as did Matthew (Matthew 3:13-15). John the Beloved wrote in his Gospel, however, that it was John the Baptist who testified about the Spirit descending like a dove onto Jesus (John 1:32-34). Thus, the masculine pronoun “he,” found in the above translation (NASB verses 10 and 11), refers not only to Jesus but to John the Baptist as well; so both confessors were affected by the voice of God.
As a Gospel reading that has been predetermined by insightful servants of God, one ordered to be read during the first Sunday of the Epiphany season, it must be reasoned that the intent is for all servants of God who hear this Gospel reading read aloud and understand that God’s voice speaks to them, saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Regardless whether a servant is a male or a female believer, simply due to a devoted human being having given birth Jesus in oneself, meaning one then was in possession of the Mind of Christ, all have become God’s Son reborn.
To have that experience, one must have proven a relationship with God, as His “beloved.”
To hear the voice of God saying, “With you I am well pleased,” then one has repented and acted as a devoted servant of God and Christ. Such devotion will have gone on for some extended time.
The metaphor of the Holy Spirit “descending like a dove” (or equally “a pigeon,” from “peristeran“), it is easy to make the analogy of a “dove of peace,” which is a Christian adaptation of meaning to the bird released by Noah. According to the Wikipedia article “Doves as symbols,” under “Judaism,” that report says: “The Talmud compares the spirit of God to a dove that hovers over the face of the waters.” Jesus and John were in the waters of the Jordan. As Jesus was leaned back and underwater, “just as he was coming up out of the water” the “spirit of God was hovering.”
When the aspect of the dove (or pigeon) is being sent by Noah as a messenger (carrier pigeon), which flew over the flood waters in search of dry land, it first returned as a messenger that land had not yet come out of the water, and a second time it returned as a messenger that land had indeed come out of the water. The dove witnessed by John the Baptist says that Jesus was the Messiah, as THE Messenger of God. Therefore, any who have subsequently been filled with the same “dove that hovers over the face of the waters” are all Saints used in service to the LORD.
Of course, being filled with the Holy Spirit will bring with it serenity and a sense of calm, regardless of how much persecution is thrown at a Saint. The dove cannot be seen foremost as a messenger of peace being offered to the world, as the world is not the realm where peace is welcomed. Jesus was the messenger of an inner peace, which all are invited to enjoy. However, peace comes at a most high price – total commitment to God.