|The site of Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River|
This tendency is troubling on many levels, the greatest of which is the seemingly constant desire of preachers today (and their listeners) to make everything in the Sacred Scriptures self-referential, that is, referring to each one of us at all times as individuals. Not every verse of the Bible refers to me or to you, and that should not bother us. Altering the text and meaning of this particular verse to apply to each person who has been baptized into Christ takes away the very purpose of the text as a theophany of the Messiah.
Applying these words to me or to you hides - or at least distorts - the tremendous significance of this act of condescension on the part of Jesus. As Joseph Ratzinger / Benedict XVI writes:
Looking at the events in light of the Cross and Resurrection, the Christian people realized what happened: Jesus loaded the burden of all mankind's guilt upon his shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan. He inaugurated his public activity by stepping down into the place of sinners. His inaugural gesture is an anticipation of the Cross. He is, as it were, the true Jonah who said to the crew of the ship, "Take me and throw me into the sea" (Jonah 1:12). The whole significance of Jesus' Baptism, the fact that he bears "all righteousness," first comes to light on the Cross: The Baptism is an acceptance of death for the sins of humanity, and the voice that calls out "This is my beloved Son" over the baptismal waters is an anticipatory reference to the Resurrection (Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism to the Transfiguration [New York: Doubleday, 2007], 18).What happened in the Jordan River is not so much about us, but about Him.
|The Baptism of Christ, by Giotto|
In his advice given to the young bishop Timothy, Saint Paul gives him a solemn charge:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosities, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths. But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry (II Timothy 4:2-5).This admonition should be heeded by everyone entrusted with the sacred task of preaching, for an evangelist never points to himself, but always to Christ Jesus. We do a lot of encouraging today, but how often do we reprimand or convince?
It is certainly true that the Father is well pleased in us we live as friends of his Son. Jesus himself tells how live in such a way: "You are my friends if you do what I command you" (John 15:14). If a preacher decides to alter the wording or meaning of Mark 1:11, he should be aware that not everyone (maybe not even a significant number) to whom he would apply these words of the Father is living as a friend of the Son and he should reprimand them and convince them to live as such. God loves us as we are, yes, but he also requires something of us.
That being said, the Father speaks these words - "You are my beloved Son" - to reveal the divinity of his only-begotten Son, Jesus. Anything else is reading rather a lot into the text.
Commenting on this equivalent verse recorded by Saint Luke, Saint Bonaventure reminds us that,
In such a way, therefore, testimony to the Christ is manifested in a voice from the Father, in a dove from the Holy Spirit, and in light by the Son (Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, 3.56. Emphases original).Just a few lines before, the Seraphic Doctor puts it even more clearly when he states,
Therefore, the you mentioned here is to be taken distinctly, because there is no other" (Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, 3.55. Emphases original).We see this distinctness particularly in the readings Mother Church proclaims together with this passage of the Gospel.
For example, it is true that these words of the Lord spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be applied to me or to you, "I have formed you" (Isaiah 42:6), these words can certainly not be applied to me or to you, "until he establishes justice on the earth" (Isaiah 42:4).
Please, my fellow preachers, keep this you distinct.