Gospel Reflection for the Baptism of the Lord, January 8th By Fr Brian Maher OMI
Even a cursory glance at US politics highlights the importance and power of endorsement when seeking to move into public life. Having the voiced support of Donald Trump, until very recently at least, was much sought after in the Republican Party. Likewise, well known actors, sportspeople, pop stars and social media gurus will be paid astronomical amounts of money to endorse almost any product you wish to think of.
Today’s Gospel might be termed a Gospel of endorsement. Firstly, Jesus is given the support of John the Baptist, a well-known and popular preacher, and then the very voice of God, coming from Heaven itself, proclaims him the ‘favoured’ one. With God in your corner, it is hard to go wrong!
Somehow, when reading this Gospel, I couldn’t avoid the feeling that there is something very human going on here between the followers of John and the followers of Jesus.
Whenever friends separate and go their own ways there are bound to be tensions. When these friends are preaching a broadly similar message and are, even unintentionally, in competition for the same audience, then the tensions can be exacerbated.
When Jesus began his own mission, he must have worried about being seen as a disgruntled follower of John, breaking away to do his own thing. Getting John’s endorsement and support for what he was doing was, therefore, important. What better way to do this than very publicly at his own baptism in the Jordan. This is what today’s Gospel recounts; John validating the mission of Jesus and encouraging everyone to listen to him. John’s Gospel makes the endorsement even clearer with his, “… He must increase and I must decrease…” statement.
“Why should we listen to you? You abandoned John the Baptist…” is a question and criticism Jesus must have faced quite frequently in the early days of his mission. It might have been easier if John’s own preaching did stop and he became a follower of Jesus, but this did not happen. John’s call for repentance and baptism did continue, not only up to John’s own death but long afterwards.
Matthew continues by recounting an incident found also in Mark’s Gospel where God speaks of Jesus being the ‘favoured’ one. There is a small difference between the two stories. In Mark’s Gospel, the incident is a kind of internal mystical event, experienced only by Jesus. It is a personal validation of what he is doing. Matthew makes the incident a public one, witnessed by all present. It becomes God’s public seal of approval for what Jesus is doing.
Today, we do not need any validation of Jesus’ mission. We have experienced his resurrection from the dead and two thousand years of reflecting on all he did for us. So, what are we to take from this Gospel?
For me, as always, I just love reflecting on the human realities faced by Jesus, John, and their groups of followers. I feel so much closer to Jesus and God when I see that Jesus needed support for his message and work. To be listened to, he had to overcome the criticisms of others and the pettiness of their attitudes.
We meet God, as Jesus did, in the human realities of our lives. They are often messy and almost never ideal. Yet this is where God chooses to meet us – in the suffering and poor, in the marginalised and excluded; in the narrowness and prejudice we face every day.
Just as God spoke to Jesus, reassuring him of his closeness, so he speaks to us every day. All we have to do is listen and we too will hear God support and validate us. “You are my child, my beloved…” he will say to us, “… my favour rests on you.”
If you have any comments, questions or thoughts on this scripture reflection, please feel welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
‘This is my Son, the Beloved’
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