And now Jesus shows up. We are a mere nine verses in and Jesus shows up as a full grown human, getting baptized, and ready to go. Mark doesn’t even tell us of Jesus entering the water, let alone any dialogue with John the Baptizer, but the narrative cuts to “And just as he was coming up out of the water…” This is what Mark’s wants us to focus on. Not the baptism as a whole, but what the baptism does, what it means, what its result is. And that is a twofold connected point.
- As he comes out of the water, Jesus sees the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove. The structures of the world are so rigid, so reinforced, so marginalizing, that for the Spirit of God to break through, the heavens must tear apart. This rather violent breaking open of the heavens is followed, however, by a peaceful descent of the Spirit. In baptism, the rigid structures we place around the presence of God break open, but then the presence of God gently and peacefully finds us.
- Jesus sees the heavens tear open and the Spirit descend, but he also hears something: A voice from those heavens says, “you are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus is named “The Beloved”. In his baptism the heavens tear open, the Spirit descends, and he is named, all of which becomes a kind of ceremony readying Jesus for his work.
And that is exactly what happens next. “Immediately” Jesus is driven by the Spirit out into the wilderness. There he will be tempted by Satan, will live with the “wild beasts”, and will be tended to by angels. We will see throughout this Gospel that while there are systems of the world that Jesus is here to dismantle, it’s all rooted in something far bigger and deeper than anything of the world. As the Apostle Paul later says, “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
We must be about the work of dismantling oppressive systems in our world, but we must do so by recognizing and overcoming the spirit that generates them. The spirit of racism, sexism, antisemitism, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamaphobia and all other such isms and phobias that deny humans both basic human rights and their innate belovedness needs to be overcome. Yes, we need to break down structures and change laws, but there exists a spirit behind all of these that the work of Jesus is about overcoming.
The heavens don’t tear apart because it’s a nice story. The heavens tear apart to bring about a different spirit in the world, one embodied in Jesus. So too are we, the Body of Christ, to embody this spirit, a spirit that overcomes the spirits of darkness that drive us to fear, hate, and subsequently marginalize and oppress one another; a spirit that breaks open and overwhelms the world with the “good news”, which is that all are the beloved of child of God in whom God is well pleased.
This is the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, that we see in just the first nine verses of Mark. The question is… how will he do it? Keep reading.