Year B: The Baptism of the Lord (First Sunday in Ordinary Time)

The Baptism of the Lord

Mark 1:7-11

And this is what John the Baptist 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.” It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.  And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Jesus’ baptism joins his identity as a beloved son with his mission.  As a beloved son, what new attitudes or actions could you develop toward renewing your baptismal identity and Christian mission in 2021?
  2. How have the events of this past year challenged you to grow and change in your understanding of what God wants? Explain how.
  3. From the beginning, Jesus fulfilled man’s hopes in very unexpected ways.  How are your hopes fulfilled but in different ways than you expected?
  4. There is something clean and hopeful about the beginning of each new year, especially this year. How does the rich symbolism of Jesus’ baptism give you hope? For what are you hopeful?

Biblical Context

Mark 1: 7-11
Margaret Nutting Ralph PHD

Once again, we will understand our Gospel reading in a much fuller sense if we are acquainted with the technique known as midrash, the Gospel writers’ use of Old Testament allusions to teach the significance of New Testament events. As Mark tells the story of John the Baptist announcing Jesus and of Jesus’ baptism, Mark uses Old Testament allusions to teach Jesus’ divinity and to foreshadow Jesus’ suffering.

Of all of the four Gospels, Mark has the lowest Christology; that is to say, Mark most emphasizes Jesus’ humanity. However, from the very first sentence     Mark’s Gospel puts forward the post-resurrection understanding that Jesus is divine by beginning, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). (If your Bible translation has the words “the Son of God” in parentheses, that is to acknowledge that the words do not appear in all manuscripts upon which our translations are based.) This teaching that Jesus is God’s son in a unique way also appears in our reading today as the voice that comes from heaven after Jesus’ baptism says, “You are my beloved Son…” (v. 11). Mark is alluding to Psalm 2, a royal psalm that, over time, was understood to express Israel’s hope for a messiah.

Psalm 2 says:

I will proclaim the decree of the Lord: The Lord said to me, “You are my son;   this day I have begotten you. Ask of me and I will give you the nations for an inheritance and the ends of the earth for your possession. (Ps 2:7-8)

Psalm 2 originates from the time in Israel’s history when Israel was nation     with a king. The presence of the king was understood to be an expression of  God’s fidelity to God’s covenant promise to protect. The psalmist considers     rebellion against the king as rebellion against God because the king is God’s     anointed one.

The kings of the earth rise up, and the princes conspire together against the Lord and against his anointed. (Ps2:2)

Remember that the words messiah and Christ both mean “the anointed one.” When the Book of Psalms was collected after the Babylonian exile (587 BC-537 BC) for use in the rebuilt temple, this psalm was still used even though the people no longer had their own king. The psalm became an expression of messianic hope. By alluding to this psalm as he describes Jesus’ baptism, Mark is teaching that Jesus is the fulfillment of that messianic hope even though Jesus did not become a king of a nation on earth.

It is hard for us to realize just how unexpected the events surrounding Jesus were. The people were expecting a messiah who would defeat the Romans and reestablish Israel as a nation, not a messiah who would be killed by his political enemies in the most ignominious way possible. Could Jesus really be the messiah, given the fact that he died on a cross? Mark’s good news is that Jesus is a messiah, a suffering messiah who rose from the dead and offers eternal life to Mark’s audience, which is suffering persecution. So as Mark begins his story, he also foreshadows Jesus’ future suffering by alluding to the passage in Isaiah that is our Old Testament reading today.

The Baptism of The Lord

Fr. Michael K. Marsh

A priest-friend of mine tells this story about a family he knows. It seems a young boy had been at home all day with his mother. He had been a terror all day long. With each incident the mother responded, “You just wait until your dad gets home.” Evening came and the dad got home from work. The mother began telling him about their son’s behavior. The dad looked at his son and before he could say anything the boy cried out, “You can’t touch me. I’ve been baptized!”

I wish it was that easy, that clear, that simple. I wish I could say to the sorrows and losses of my life, “You can’t touch me. I’ve been baptized!” I wish I could say to the struggles and difficulties of my life, “You can’t touch me. I’ve been baptized!” I wish I could say to the changes and chances of life, “You can’t touch me. I’ve been baptized!” But that is not how baptism seems to work.

Despite my baptism I have, like every one of you, suffered sorrows and losses of life, encountered difficulties and struggles, had to face the changes and chances of life I would rather have avoided. And despite his baptism that little boy in the story still went to time-out. And yet he speaks a deep truth. He is absolutely right; he is untouchable. At some level he knows that his existence, identity, and value are not limited to time and space; to the things he has done or left undone. He knows himself to be more than his biological existence. He knows himself as beloved. He knows the gift of baptism.

Baptism does not eliminate our difficulties, fix our problems, take away the pain, or change the circumstances of our lives. Instead, it changes us and offers a way through those difficulties, sorrows, problems, and circumstances and ultimately, a way through death. Baptism transcends our biological existence and offers us a vision of life as it might be. Baptism offers us a new way of being – one that is neither limited by nor suffers from our “createdness.” Through baptism we no longer live according to the biological laws of nature but by relationship with God, who through the Prophet Isaiah says, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).

That means when we pass through the waters of sorrow and difficulty God is with us. The rivers that can drown will not overwhelm us. That means when we walk through the fire of loss and ruination we are not burned. The flames that can destroy will not consume us. For he is the Lord our God, the Holy one of Israel, our Savior. (Isaiah 43:1-7)

To know this, to trust this, to experience this is the gift of baptism and baptism always takes place at the border of life as it is and life as it might be. That border is the river Jordan. Geographically, symbolically, and theologically the Jordan River is the border on which baptism happens. It is the border between the wilderness and the promised land; the border between life as survival and a life that is thriving; the border between sin and forgiveness; the border between the tomb and the womb; the border between death and life. We all stand on that border at multiple points in our lives. Some of you stand there now. Some of you experience that border as a place of loss, fear, pain. For others it is a place of joy, hope, and healing. In reality it is both at the same time.

The only reason we can stand at the border of baptism is because Jesus stood there first. We stand on the very same border on which his baptism took place.

Jesus’ baptism is for our sake and salvation. His baptism makes ours possible. The water of baptism does not sanctify Jesus. Instead, he sanctifies the water for our baptism. The water that once drowned is now sanctified water that gives life.

Ritually we are baptized only once. Yet throughout our life we return to the waters of baptism. Daily we return to the baptismal waters through living our baptismal vows.

Sometimes our own body provides the waters of baptism, tears. St. Ephrem the Syrian spoke of our eyes as two baptismal fonts. Tears are the body’s own baptismal waters that cleanse, heal, and renew life. Other times the circumstances of life, things done and left undone by us and others, the ups and downs of living, push us back to the waters of baptism. We return in order to again be immersed into the open heavens, to be bathed by God’s breath, the Holy Spirit, and to let the name “beloved” wash over us.

There is truth is what that little boy said, “You can’t touch me. I’ve been baptized!” Do you believe that? Can you say it and claim it for yourself? Can you live it?

Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle B, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2005 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc.