Musings on the Baptism of Jesus by John in the River Jordon


The Baptism of Jesus by John in the River Jordan was a dramatic, life changing event for both men. For John it was the beginning of the end of the ministry which had been ordained for him from the moment of his conception. For Jesus it was the beginning of the full revelation of his true identity as ‘Son of God,’ the beginning of his Public Ministry and our Redemption. For us, as we ponder the events and the incidents that followed, it is deeply mysterious, full of intriguing questions that we can only raise and wonder about and provides much that we can learn and apply to ourselves.
The account of the Baptism is familiar, John demurs when Christ approaches him for Baptism but Jesus insists:
‘Leave it like this for the time being it is fitting that we should in this way fulfil all that righteousness demands. Mt.3:15.

Jesus is then baptised and as he emerges from the water the Holy Spirit descends upon him in the form of a dove and a voice spoke from heaven “This is my son the Beloved my favour rests on him.” Mt3; 17

How well did Jesus and John know one another we wonder? How much and when did their parents talk to them about the circumstances of their births? We would love to know more but have to be content with what we have and what we can deduce from what is given to us.

From the interchange between them it would appear that John had some suspicions that Jesus was the one for whom he was preparing the way. Yet the confirmation of this only came at the Baptism of Jesus,

“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said,
Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel. Then John gave this testimony:
‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.’”
Jn.1:29-34   There is much we can learn from John. Jesus himself gives him a great testimony: “Truly I tell you, solemnly of all the children born of women, a greater than John the Baptist, has never been seen;” Mt: 11-11     

John was completely committed to his ministry. He did not seek ease, or comfort. He was fearless, forthright, honest and direct with all people, irrespective of rank or status. He was a very humble man, who did not seek recognition or acclaim. When some of his disciples were aggrieved that Jesus was Baptising in the Jordon. His response was magnanimous and inspirational.

“A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.” Jn..3:27-30   
As we know John was imprisoned and murdered shortly after the baptism of Jesus, to satisfy an angry woman who he had been offended by his public disapproval of her behaviour. It was, in one sense a sad ending to a great life, yet John’s work was not over because his example continues to teach and inspire us

'One great lesson I draw from John is the art of letting go. So often we can make ministry the reason for our existence and feel worthless or angry when retirement comes, or illness or disability prevents us from continuing our work as before. We read of tragic accidents caused because people insist on driving cars or other vehicles when age or disability makes it unsafe for them to do so. Yes, John the Baptist has much to teach us. I touch on just one small aspect but there is so much more to reflect on.

 While the Baptism of Jesus was an ending, for John, it was the beginning of a new phase in the life of Jesus. He was to learn that he was sent by the Father to take on to himself the burden of all the  evil perpetrated by humankind from the beginning of humanities’ existence until the end of the world and to teach humankind how to live according to the will of Blessed Trinity.

Remembering that Jesus was truly man and truly God the aspect that intrigues is how Jesus dealt with this period of transition from being Jesus the carpenter’s son to the understanding and realisation that he was God become man. Later he could say with confidence
‘The Father and I are One.’ but how was it for him in the early days after his Baptism? We know from later events that Jesus knew every detail of what was to happen to him and those around him. We wonder if this was an on-going, gradual revelation or was all revealed during those forty days, or at the moment the Holy Spirit descended upon him.

 According to Mark the words of the Father are addressed directly to Jesus,
“You are my Son the Beloved; my favour rests on you.” 
The Voice, the Message, was for Jesus, The image of the dove was for John. then we read:

"At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.Mk.3:11-13

Jesus, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, was coming to terms with his dual identity. It must have been a tough forty days. The temptations, perhaps give some indication of the nature of the struggles he was undergoing. Each of the first two temptations begins with the words
"If you are the Son of God...’ indicating perhaps the difficulty that Jesus was experiencing in believing those words he had heard; could they really be true? Was he just deluded?

The first temptation was an attack on the physical level. Jesus was fasting, he was weak and hungry should he test out these new powers by turning stones into bread, to relieve his physical weakness and improve his understanding of what was happening? However, whatever the nature of his struggles, he was strong in his resistance and answered,

“It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ Mt.4:4

The second line of attack was to test out the words of Scripture concerning him. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ v6

Again Jesus was strong in his resistance. “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ v7

The next temptation was something to do with the human lust for power and possessions but Jesus again resisted powerfully:
“Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”v10

What can we learn from Jesus’ experience? Perhaps the first thing is to remind ourselves that temptation is part of the human condition; it is the on-going fight for supremacy between the human Ego and God; a consequence of God’s gift to us of Free Will - our power to choose. To be tempted is not sinful, to give in to it is. We resist temptation by the Grace of God. We learn from Jesus to name the Enemy and to discern and recognise his subtlety.

 When the forty days were over it seems likely that Jesus returned to his mother’s home. At least it is good to think of him being fed and resting under her loving care. It feels likely too that they had some deep conversations about the baptism experience and his time in the desert.

Perhaps she shared some of her own experiences and ponderings more freely with him, now that he was fully aware of his identity and mission. Who knows?

 What we do know from John’s Gospel is that Jesus with his mother attended a marriage feast at Cana in Galilee shortly after his time in the wilderness. The incident, regarding the shortage of wine at the feast, reveals a tension in Jesus about when and how to start using the new powers he has. According to John’s Gospel he had already began to gather disciples and to baptise, yet he says to his mother. Women why turn to me? My hour has not come yet.”

We cannot know what looks or gestures were exchanged between them but something changed. Mary approached the servants, presumably with Jesus, and said
“Do whatever he tells you.” and water was changed into wine; his first miracle was performed at a wedding feast.

What was the hesitancy about? Was it sensitivity to John? Was it a nagging doubt about his, as yet untested powers? We can only wonder.

What it is good to contemplate is that Mary who bore him in her womb now quietly launches him into his active ministry. 
 Sister Camilla