Baptism Is About Identity

11 January 2009 Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord
Isaiah 42, 1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 10, 34-38; Mark 1, 7-11

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is about an inauguration to a new identity. The Gospel of Mark introduces Jesus to us. Having established John the Baptist in the previous passages, the Gospel today announces that a coming figure will surpass his own ministry (“One mightier than I is coming after me, I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals”), and that this messenger will baptize in the Holy Spirit. Thus the stage is now set for the appearance of Jesus. Mark presented John the Baptist as the prophetic messenger who prepares the way for God’s new work. The expectation is set for the One who will come in the power of God’s spirit.

When we introduce a person, we usually begin with a short background, hoping that details of his background will begin establishing connections. The information that “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee” brings him in proximity to John, and offers a summary of His prior life. The same thing when we introduce someone to our friends: “She is from Kalibo, Aklan” or “She studied at the Ateneo de Manila University”. We hope that someone from our friends will pick up the information and relate it to them: “My parents are from Aklan too” or “I am an Atenean, from what batch are you?” Conversations begin thereafter.

Second, Jesus then is identified with the “movement and baptism” of John. We are identified by the affiliations and organizations we belong to. For example, many of us belong to various charismatic movements. Some of us are working together to advance our shared political, social, or artistic ideas such as poverty alleviation, environmental awareness, equality, etc. And this can be observed by others.

However, we are deeply identified by those who love us. This information is sometimes personal, and not available to bystanders. The crowd in the Gospel of Mark does not see the vision of Jesus. When Jesus rose from the baptismal waters, Jesus sees the heavens opened and observed the Spirit descending upon Him (1. 10). As Jesus rose from the waters, divine signs come down to earth. In ancient times, the tearing of the heavens is a sign of a new era. God has irrevocably ripped the heavens, never to shut them out again. It also means that communication is now being established from above to below (see Gen 7,11; Ezekiel 1,1; Revelations 4,1). This new creation is what the prophet Isaiah announced in the first reading (Isaiah 42, 1-5). The identity of Jesus is confirmed in the voice of God whom Jesus hears: “This is my beloved Son.” Jesus is the beloved Son of God!

Unless we announce it, we are identified by our relationships. We are the son of so and so; the husband of Ms. X; the best friend of Y; or negatively, the archrival of Z. But what is more endearing is about our uniqueness in the way people call us. Isaac is the beloved of Abraham (Gen 22, 2); despite Abraham having other children. Jesus as “the beloved” enhances His dignity. And the final phrase, “with you I am well pleased” further tell us of the quality of Jesus’ relationship with the Father.

Having introduced Jesus to us, Mark begins telling us about Jesus and His ministry. With the knowledge of who Jesus is, we are led to the story of Jesus’ public ministry or how Jesus is all that has been claimed for Him by God: He is the Christ, the Son of God (v. 1), the Lord (v.3), the Stronger One (v.7), one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit (v.8), He is filled with the Spirit (v.10) and finally, we, the readers, are assured that He is the beloved Son of God and God is well-pleased with Him (v. 11).

Let us reflect on two groups of questions. You can just choose any of these:

First, If you were to identify yourself, how do you want to be introduced: by your origins, by your affiliations, or by your relationships? And what is the truest and deepest identification that you have, based on a loving relationship?

Second, are you faithful to who you really are? Are the things that you do consistent with how you know yourself?

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