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"Beloved"

Matthew and Luke tell birth stories so we will know that this baby is the Messiah. Mark makes his case at the baptism with the heavens torn apart, the Spirit descending like a dove, and a voice from heaven proclaiming, “You are my Son, the Beloved …”


The First Mystery: the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan from the Luminous Mysteries chapel of the St. John Paul II National Shrine, Washington, DC Mosaic designed and installed by Fr. Marko Rupnik, SJ
[1] The First Mystery: the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan from the Luminous Mysteries chapel of the St. John Paul II National Shrine, Washington, DC Mosaic designed and installed by Fr. Marko Rupnik, SJ

Mark 1:4-11

January 14, 2024

Dr. Todd R. Wright


Mark begins his gospel in a different place than the others. Matthew and Luke begin with stories of Jesus’ birth; Mark begins with his baptism. Many have wondered why.


Does he not know the stories or is he just committed to emphasizing something else?


I think it’s the latter.


One scholar has commented that “[f]or Mark, the stakes couldn’t be higher. [He] wrote during (or just after) the Jewish revolt against Roman occupation, and that conflict, along with Rome’s subsequent destruction of the Jewish temple, made everything seem stark, severe, even godforsaken. Accordingly, Mark’s prose is sharp and graphic, and the action is swift (his favorite word is ‘immediately’).”[2]


So, in fast forwarding to the baptism. Mark is cutting to the chase. His audience is in crisis, and they need a savior ready to get down to work … immediately!

 

Matthew and Luke tell birth stories so we will know that this baby is the Messiah. Mark makes his case at the baptism with the heavens torn apart, the Spirit descending like a dove, and a voice from heaven proclaiming, “You are my Son, the Beloved …”  


Jan Richardson was inspired by that pronouncement to write a poem. It begins:


“Beloved.

Is there any other word [that] needs saying,

any other blessing [that] could compare with this name, this knowing?

Beloved.

Comes like a mercy to the ear that has never heard it.

Comes like a river to the body that has never seen such grace.

Beloved.

Comes holy to the heart aching to be new.

Comes healing to the soul wanting to begin again.

Beloved.”[3]

 

I believe that Mark is writing to a people who needed to hear that message.


They feel battered and bruised, bullied and badly broken.


Maybe all generations do, at some point. Jesus’ contemporaries certainly did.


They came out to the wilderness seeking forgiveness; searching for God.


John was a sign that God was doing something new, but he knew his limitations.


He was only the messenger sent to prepare the way. A more powerful one would come.


The people were primed. Their imaginations ran wild! Their hearts beat with hope!


Mark knows that need; that desperation lingers, so he begins his gospel with a Messiah who stands in line with the people and is baptized like them, (like you), humble and ready to serve.

 

But make no mistake, this is not a story of a God who slips out of crowd and sneaks onto the stage. Mark’s language is dramatic: the heavens are torn apart!


Roger Gench says “It is important to note that the heavens do not simply ‘open,’ for something that opens can close. Mark tells us that the heavens were ripped apart – that reality was irreparably altered as a fissure in the heavens appeared – marking a permanent elimination of the boundary between heaven and earth.”[4]


He goes further. He says, “Jesus’ baptism prefigures our own baptism, [so] this hole orients our lives.” He invites us to imagine that there is a symbolic hole over our baptismal font that stretches up to heaven. “This” he says, “is where we hear a voice that tells us the truth about ourselves, claiming us as God’s own beloved children, and where God’s own Spirit anoints us for service.”


So when you touch the water, whether here or at home, remember that God has heard the cries of a broken people and torn down any barrier that would separate us. Not as a display of power, but as a show of love. That’s the kind of God Mark’s gospel will be about!


With that in mind, Richardson closes her poem with one final bit of advice:


“Beloved.

Keep saying it

and though it may sound strange at first,

watch how it becomes part of you,

how it becomes you,

as if you never could have known yourself [as] anything else …[5]


Beloved.”


Amen

 

[1] The First Mystery: the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan from the Luminous Mysteries chapel of the St. John Paul II National Shrine, Washington, DC Mosaic designed and installed by Fr. Marko Rupnik, SJ
[2] From “Prince of Peace” a commentary on Mark 1:1-8 by the SALT Project
[3] From “Beginning with Beloved, A Blessing”
[4] From his reflections on the text for “Looking into the Lectionary” for the Presbyterian Outlook, 1/8/21
[5] Also from “Beginning with Beloved, A Blessing”

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