We continue our lectio by praying with the next few verses of Mark’s Gospel…
As with everything that Jesus says and does, sign is never far away. And the signs that he gives don’t merely point us in a certain direction – if we are attentive enough – they also contain the reality to which they point. So it is with this moment of baptism at John the Baptist’s hands. We might very well wonder why Jesus needs this baptism – he is without sin, he has no need to repent, he has done nothing which requires forgiveness. And yet he is here, at the Jordan, with all these others who seek new beginnings, and who are putting their foot, tentatively, on a new path of right-living.
Undoubtedly, Jesus’ baptism is a declaration of a new way and an acknowledgement of identity. We have to take a moment to notice that this scene, despite its very public nature, is wholly intimate. Mark tells us about what Jesus sees, what Jesus experiences, what Jesus hears. And we are standing, as it were, right where Jesus is standing, sharing in this. Throughout Mark’s Gospel the question of Jesus’ identity will be a difficult one, one which it seems Christ himself is keen to hide – until a certain moment – and which others will catch a glimpse of or dispute. But Mark is very clear for those who stand close to Jesus and who are hearing or reading this, his good news report- we are allowed to know, from the outset, who he is, even as his identity is confirmed for him.
There is a privileged invitation to us from the beginning of this Gospel, therefore – the acknowledgement of Jesus as he is. In a sense each of us who read and pray these texts are asked to find again a way to make personal professions of faith in Christ’s sonship. And this text is multilayered – Mark already lays down a foundational trintarian teaching – we are introduced not only to Christ as he is, but also to the Father and the Spirit of them both.
This is the fundamental relationship which can be called identity for Jesus – he is the Father’s Son, and the Father loves him. Not simply in baptism but in our very creation the Father affirms this fundamental relationship with each of us – you are my son, you are my daughter,the one whom I love, the one on whom my choice lies.
What is it for each of us to reclaim this relationship which transcends all other relationships, which means more, ultimately, to me than any other relationship?
Mark doesn’t like to hang around in his narrative – immediately the scene changes and we accompany Jesus into the desert, the same sort of wilderness which John the Baptist has called his own, and place which may seem to be one of devastation, but is also one of growth. We recall that this period in which Jesus is tested now comes directly after the revelation of his identity to himself by the Father and with the Spirit’s anointing – Jesus takes time to allow this to sink in, to come to terms with the implications of identity and all that it will bring. It’s a place and time of extremes for him – he is with the wild beasts, the things which are not human company at all, and yet he is looked after by angels. He experiences the hardships which being in this world will bring, and yet he discovers that his relationship to the Father leads him upwards. He is firmly in the world but also looking beyond it.
The struggle of identity for all of us can be life shaking. The process of acceptance and integration can take longer than we imagined. And it can feel as if we have been tumbled into a desert place, without companionship, understanding, support. Often we find ourselves wondering who is the real self that I can call myself. Of all of the ‘selfs’ which I present to the world and to those around me, is it my desire to be able to set aside the false selfs and come to meet the only true self whom God alone knows and yet that he wishes me to come to know with him? God knows who we are in our deepest heart, the place where he has made his home, with the Son and the Spirit, and waits for me to come to that place too.
Arising out of the revelation of identity and its testing and acceptance, Jesus now breaks onto the public stage. He comes into the Galilee exactly as he is and without any hesitation in the message that he proclaims, building on, fulfilling, John’s initial message – everything from now on will centre of the making present of the kingdom of God, the kingdom, after all, of his Father. But there is a fundamental difference now – not just an invitation to repent, but the extension to believe in the gospel. Believing the gospel – what Jesus now proclaims and, as we said above, makes present in his words and deeds – will be a mark of discipleship. This belief is centred on Christ Jesus as the one who brings the reign of God about and who, in his person, reveals the Kingdom of his Father.
Mark shows us the almost inevitable development of Jesus’ coming forward – revelation and identity, testing and preparation, kingdom announced, first disciples called.
Call – vocation – takes place in the context of the kingdom present. It finds its only and real meaning in the context of Christ’s revelation of the kingdom. Vocation is manifestation of the kingdom, as well as service of the kingdom. The testing of the call which the first disciples receive will come later. And will be gradual. For now, they respond to the call which they receive clearly from Christ.
These men make tough decisions when they respond positively to Christ’s call to them. They leave everything which, until that point, had had significance and importance to them – employment, family, familiar groups and places, friends…. The call is always one which asks for choice and sometimes radical decisions to leave aside and behind. Did the first disciples know fully what it was they were getting into? It’s entirely doubtful. Had they heard of Jesus before this? Probably not. Did he take time to tell them what it was they were getting into? It doesn’t seem so. But they all must have felt, both individually and together, an immense value in what it was they were undertaking.
This is the question for us in any vocation, and particularly the call which we feel in the Church – what is being asked of me is the key which, despite all the good things that have gone before, is going to open every door in my life, is going to be the prism through which light shines onto every aspect of who I am and what I am called to be, is the ay which is going to show me who I am.
In this week’s lectio divina Christ invites me to ponder with him the questions which affect us all but for us who follow Christ leads us to the Father and ourselves – who am I that the Father calls beloved; how has he asked me to announce the kingdom; what does he call me to be in the Church so that I too can bring the the kingdom into being here and now?
- Jesus’ baptism is a moment of revelation and self-knowledge: his defining relationship is made known
- Jesus is tested as a preparation for the great mission which he is to undertake
- Everything that he does from now on will be centred on the Kingdom proclamation
- Within this context personal calls and invitations to join him arise and are fulfilled
-Part of our continuous lectio divina on the Gospel According to Mark-