“You are my son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:11.
This verse from the Gospel of Mark comes from the story of Jesus being baptized in the Jordan river by John, the Baptizer. It’s, quite literally, the beginning: Mark’s story of Jesus begins with it. And it’s very straight forward. John’s been calling people to repent and be baptized because someone greater is coming. Along comes Jesus, who gets in line with everyone else. “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.’”
You remember how that happened at your baptism, right? No? Well, maybe it was an infant baptism or so long ago you don’t remember. Or maybe you didn’t realize it was in the heart of every person who witnessed your baptism. Because it truly happened.
Listen. Here’s why I love this simple, unembellished story from Mark. I think it’s Mark’s “birth story” for Jesus. Or maybe “born again” story’s better. But it’s a story about us, too, one that sets the tone for how we might know Jesus.
Jesus appears, just like everyone else. Earlier, Mark described John the Baptist as appearing in the wilderness, “clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” But for Jesus, not a word of a description beyond being from Nazareth. As if he’s just like everyone else.
Presumably he gets in line, just like everyone else. And Mark doesn’t say that John recognizes him. He dunks him in the water and up he comes, just like everyone else.
And then, Jesus alone sees the sign of the spirit and hears the voice.
I want to say a “just like everyone else” there, but I’m betting that you don’t think that’s just like anyone else. And that’s just the point. I think you should think about that.
Sure, maybe there’s no description of Jesus because he’s beyond description. Maybe the dove and the voice are unique and set Jesus apart, as befits The Son of God. And then we will hear the stories and know that Jesus is not like us, so we can’t possibly be like Jesus and we can hold Jesus at a respectful distance.
Or maybe “the Word was made flesh and lived among us” so that we would see that we, too are human and divine. Maybe Jesus came to be baptized just like everyone else because Jesus was part of the community, just like everyone else. Maybe Jesus experienced the Spirit, the power of God, and knew that he was a child of God, that God loves him and that God is filled with joy at his being because that’s what we, too, should know. Maybe that’s why we share in baptism as a community, so that we’ll see that love and joy being reflected from the faces of everyone else, all children of God.
Imagine how empowering that could be. Knowing all that, embracing all that, we could embrace Jesus, not hold him apart, we could learn from Jesus knowing that we, too, are capable of extravagant love, unlimited forgiveness, compassionate understanding and life-giving grace. Just like Jesus.