Reflection for the Baptism of Christ
“At that time, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan.” From Mark 1:4-11, NIV.
“Emergency patients could be turned away from hospitals, causing avoidable deaths.”Prof. Chris Whitty.
“An injection of optimism……. We started jabbing on Thursday ….this gives them a bit of hope.” Dr Paul Evans.
Having marked at Epiphany the revelation that the Christchild comes for all people, today’s Gospel focuses on the adult Jesus being baptised and the revelation in a voice from heaven that this is God’s son, “whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:11.
Mark’s Gospel gives no information about Jesus’ birth or childhood, unlike Matthew‘s and Luke’s, although there are some clues in Mark’s opening chapter when he writes that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee. In the time of Jesus, Galilee was a remote, Northern part of the Holy Land and the place where he grew up was scorned by Nathanael who scoffed, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”John 1:46. Mark is telling us that it can, as Jesus spent his childhood there and spent much of his ministry in small towns and rural locations although he travelled to Jerusalem for religious festivals.
Mark begins with the good news that, “This is the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” After a prophecy from Isaiah, he describes John, the cousin of Jesus who calls people to repent and change their ways. He is much more the image of what a prophet was then expected to be: John wears animal skins, eats locusts and wild honey and lives in the desert. The people are flocking to him and, by contrast, Jesus emerges from a domestic setting, eating ordinary food and experiencing family life. Yet he goes immediately to his cousin for baptism, John having pointed to the one coming after him who will baptise with the Holy Spirit and not just water. That happens as Jesus comes out of the Jordan and the spirit in the form of a dove descends upon him, a reminder of what happened when the Ark safely navigated the floods of chaos.
As we continue to face the chaotic situation of the ongoing pandemic, a flood of people is now streaming to the NHS – but Professor Whitty is warning that the NHS may find itself overwhelmed by the tide of human need. These are troubling times for us all and now the wait for the vaccine to be administered seems to be taking longer than had been anticipated. Where can the good news be and what is being revealed to us today as the pandemic continues to force us to face what some have likened to a baptism of fire, a fiery trial that is testing individuals, communities, institutions and nations to their limit currently?
The phrase ‘baptism of fire’ derives from John the Baptist whose prophetic words are recorded by St Matthew as, “He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Matt.3:11. It’s come to mean that great suffering and fiery ordeals may result in cleansing and transformation and it’s a phrase that is hard to hear, given how much suffering, death and chaos has resulted from Covid-19. But, with the need for frequent hand washing, the avoidance of contact and the endurance of prolonged isolation and suffering, it’s clear that we cannot continue as we were. A change of ways is essential and our lives, workplaces and expectations are being transformed by what’s happening with the heated exchanges in the media underlining this.
Part of the good news currently circulating is that drugs associated with rheumatoid arthritis are proving to be helpful in addition to the steroid Dexamethasone in battling Covid-19. There’s much for which to be thankful amidst the terrible suffering and, amongst continuing concerns about the vaccine and the way ahead, the language of what’s happening is significant. Some people term the vaccine as a jab or a shot, indicating that it’s likely to be painful, whereas the possibilities it may open up have lead others to call it an injection of hope. Who knows what will happen in the short or long term when it becomes widely available or as vaccine resistance becomes a factor with the virus mutating?
Nevertheless, the baptism of Jesus, in underlining the importance of family links, change of lifestyle and human need, reveals the divine intervention that can be at hand too. When prayer and hope are also injected into circulation, they too can become part of the transformation as we continue to cling today to the hope that science, medicine and the vaccine will get us through this fiery ordeal. We all have a part to play in the days ahead that will affect us, our families and those around us and, as the season of Epiphany continues, that is a significant revelation. It will require a hopeful response from each of us immersed in this chaotic struggle, whether or not we profess a religious faith, if we are to emerge from this particular baptism of fire.
With my prayers, Christine.