John … proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the holy Spirit.” – Mark 1:6-8
Mark’s gospel, while the shortest of the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), is a fast-paced telling of Jesus’s life. We know it is the earliest of the three, and the most detailed in the little things that give life to the words on the page. It gives intimate details that scholars attribute to Peter’s telling and Mark’s attentive listening. Such details, like when Jesus places a child in their midst, he lovingly places his arms around the child; or describing he had a pillow under his head while asleep in the stern of the boat, make us ponder what it might have been like to be Mark, listening to Peter recount his time with Jesus. As we read, keep imagining you are sitting with Mark listening to Peter preaching, and in our reading in the coming days, we are retelling the story we’ve already heard, letting it take hold anew in our hearts.
And so we begin this Gospel quickly, almost setting out at a jogging pace – John the Baptist is quickly introduced, followed by Jesus coming to him to be baptized. Jesus is driven into the desert by the Holy Spirit and is tempted by Satan for forty days. Only after a time of testing in the desert does Jesus begin his public ministry, choosing his disciples and began teaching in the synagogue.
Quite a lot in 22 verses! The cornerstone of it all is Jesus’ baptism. Jesus, being the Son of God, did not need John’s baptism of repentance, but Jesus allowed himself to be baptized. According to Jewish tradition, baptism was for converts to Judaism. The person who converted to the Jewish faith had three things they had to undergo: 1) circumcision; 2) a sacrifice of an animal’s blood for atonement; and 3) he would have a baptism of repentance, a cleansing of his past life. But what John was doing was radical – he was baptizing Jews, who did not need to submit to baptism. He understood that one could belong to God by family line, but that they needed to have a change of heart and choose to live for God. The baptism of repentance he offered was one of preparing the Jewish nation for the acceptance of Christ.
Many Christians today identify themselves as such because they were raised in that tradition. But John the Baptist shows us, we have to come to a point where we choose to belong to God. We may have been baptized as infants, exposing us to many graces through the gentle presence of the Holy Spirit we received; it is up to us as we mature to embrace the faith we inherited and turn to God and affirm what began in our youth.
How do we do this? Our first step is to acknowledge who we are in truth, to call out the parts of us that are not of God. Secondly, we must make right our wrongs in our relationships with others. Thirdly, we must turn to God. Renewing our relationship with God through the grace of the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession). This is our John the Baptist moment, being before the priest and confessing our sins and admitting our need for God’s mercy, restores us to our baptismal innocence.
Jesus wanted to be like us in all ways but sin that he allowed himself to be baptized and subjected to temptation. But he also guides us to see how we are called through our redemption, to glorify him in sharing the message of grace we have received through his blood on the cross.
May God bless you!