First Sunday after Epiphany; the Baptism of our Lord; 10 January 2021; Epiphany 1B (RCL); Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11.
I am watching the television coverage of a protest (?), a riot (?), an insurrection (?) at the US Capitol Building. It seems to me that the scripture readings for this coming Sunday have something to say to us about the way power works in God’s plan as opposed to how we think it should go.
At Jesus’ baptism, as narrated by Mark, the Spirit descends on Jesus in the form of a dove (think of Noah sending out the dove after the flood), and a voice comes from heaven saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” Mark is here quoted Psalm 2, a coronation psalm, and one of the Servant songs in Isaiah.
Psalm 2 begins, “Why are the nations in an uproar?” The psalmist is surprised that the nations rebel against the might of Israel. God says to the king, “You are my son; this day I have begotten you.” God will aid the king in crushing his enemies and hold the peoples in subjection. “The one who is in heaven holds them (the nations) in derision.”
The Servant Song begins, “Behold my servant, on whom my spirit rests, whom I uphold, in whom I delight.” The servant brings justice to the peoples, does not cry out in the streets, does not quench a dimly burning wick, but does his work peacefully. The servant’s suffering is redemptive for all the nations.
Mark mashes these two figures together in the baptism of Jesus. The agency of the Spirit shows both king and servant in the person of Jesus. I imagine catechumens hearing this Gospel for the first time on the night of their baptism, and thinking, “This same Spirit will descend on me,” and then hearing how the story plays out, and Jesus proclaimed “Son of God” on the cross by the centurion standing by. Maybe not the vocation we had hoped for in our baptism.
Mark’s story subverts the idea of the king crushing enemies. Instead, Jesus’ suffering brings justice to the world. This is the new king. All of the readings for this Sunday focus on the agency of the Spirit — moving over the waters of chaos at creation, giving disciples ability to prophecy and translate the mighty acts of God into other idioms, and descending on Jesus to begin his ministry.
If the person of the Spirit in the Trinity is the love that is poured out between Lover and Beloved, then when we are baptized with that Spirit, we are called to pour ourselves out in love for the world God has made. The sin of the first humans was to take the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as if we were God, to assume that we know best what is right and wrong, and sit on the seat of God to administer that judgment. The remedy for that sin is to be immersed in the Spirit of God that empowers Jesus to show the power of God in the role of the servant. In our baptism, we are empowered also to pour out our lives for the good of the world, to be the Body of Christ given for the world.
What I am watching on television is the exact opposite of the fruit of the Spirit. We pray for the gift of that Spirit to bathe us now.