Who is this Jesus, whom we meet today, emerging from his baptism, and by all gospel accounts imbued with the Spirit of God.
John the Baptist paints an image of the one who will come after him with winnowing fan in his hand to clear the threshing floor, gather the wheat and burn the chaff. Straight after John’s rather strong description, Matthew’s story simply says, ‘Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.’ John obviously does not expect Jesus to act in this way. His image of the one coming is different and certainly does not include his submitting to a baptism of repentance that John deemed other people needed. Only in Matthew’s version does John object, perhaps highlighting again that even for someone like John, the expectations surrounding the Messiah and the reality that Jesus offers raises questions and maybe inner conflicts. What Jesus does is affirmed by God, for after he submits to the baptism, he has an experience of God’s approval.
The prophet Isaiah offers another image of the one who is to come. This one is a servant, a chosen one, one who is commissioned to bring forth justice, and one who deals gently with the weak. Peter, in Acts 10, seems to corroborate this image as he describes Jesus as anointed by God and going about doing good and healing the oppressed.
It is tempting to settle on a preferred notion of Jesus. Perhaps it offers a type of spiritual security. The celebration of the Baptism of Jesus is placed at the beginning of the period of Ordinary Time, that time when we are presented with many situations in which we find Jesus. Today’s readings give us a glimpse of Jesus and open the door for us to see more. If we want to know more, he invites us as he invited the two disciples to come and see. Come through the door and follow, as it were, some images from his career.
Where might we find this one on whom the Spirit of God rested? We might find him praying in the desert or sailing on the lake. We find him cleaning up the Temple, dining with a Pharisee, and relaxing in his friends’ home as he chats with Mary. We meet him as a compassionate teacher and healer. We meet him as a challenger to some sacredly held notions about God and faith. There is no one way that we can cling to that describes him, for he constantly challenges our sacredly held notions too.
Who is this Jesus whom we meet today emerging from his baptism? He might respond to us – ‘if you want to know, enter the story and come and see’.
Elizabeth Ferguson, OP