The writer of the Gospel of Mark does not mince words. The narrative is quick, blunt, to the point.
In today’s reading from that gospel, we are immediately put in the scene at the Jordan River where John the Baptist, that prophetic figure dressed to conjure up the image of Elijah, is initiating an entirely new order. The carpenter’s son from the backwater town of Nazareth steps up to participate in this revolution.
It is a revolution that will dramatically clash with the dominate powers of Rome and the Jewish establishment.
During the centuries since this baptism, the revolutionary pillars of Jesus’ messianic mission . . . confronting the old social order, building an alternative society, and lifting up the outcast, devalued, and the poor . . .have all been diluted, compromised and tamed by the status quo. Nothing controversial here, just move on. Maintain what you have been doing. Instead of living the revolution, we again and again succumb to the dazzling attractions of status, power, and money. We spend our talents, time, and worries on what is fleeting, superficial, and unsatisfying.
The subversive faith of Jesus is founded on a powerful connection with God the Father (“You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well-please!”). The heavens are literally ripped open and the Spirit hovers over Jesus as he completes the washing ritual to begin his life’s work.
In baptism he, like us, has died to the old order and our most primitive instincts . . .the instinct to control our own destinies, to get even, to hold a grudge, to dominate, to possess more stuff, to be better than others, and dismiss the weak, vulnerable, and powerless.
We have been gifted with grace to love and follow this Jesus, this God-man who spoke the truth even when it leads to the cross. We are called to be prophets in the tradition of John the Baptist, but more importantly in imitation of Jesus. We need not be afraid to call out injustice in our communities, nation, world. We support one another in serving the hungry, homeless, mentally ill, refugees, the bitter, and the angry.
As Jesus initiated his life work in the Jordan, we must re-think a vanilla, non-confrontational, bland faith designed to comfort us in a world marinating in greed, violence, hated, and destruction of the environment. It is an illusory comfort, destined to disappoint. True comfort is found resting securely in God. Jesus assures us, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him (John 15,21)
Christianity does not endorse these sins. We are graced to resist them, eliminate them where and when we can, and suffer the consequences of doing so, as Jesus and John the Baptist did. The God of peace and joy will see to it we are rewarded with our most authentic, true selves. This is our destiny.
Jim Wayne is a board member of the Passionist Solidarity Network (PSN), and author of The Unfinished Man. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky.