Is 40:1-5,9-11; 2 Pt 3:8-14; Mk 1:1-8
Fernando Armellini MCJ
Claretian Publications, Macau
“This is the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” This is a carefully composed verse by Mark wanting to draw his readers’ attention to the beginning of the book of Genesis: “In the beginning when God began to create the heavens and the earth.”
The world, which came out good from the hand of God, was then corrupted. The Israelites, for centuries, were waiting for God to fulfill his promise: “I now create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things will not be remembered” (Is 65:17). The evangelist, now, gives the good news: The kingdom of God is present in the world.
After the first verse, the Baptist is introduced in the scene. His words “prepare the way of the Lord, level his paths,” were already heard from an anonymous prophet who, in Babylon, nearly six centuries before, encouraging the exiles to return to their land.
Many took in the repetition of this invitation by John. They came from Judea and flocked to the Jordan to be baptized. They understood that it was necessary to repeat the experience of the Exodus. They must get back on the path to reach the promised land. The ultimate destination of God’s people is not Palestine. To which country the Lord wants to lead them? They now still don’t know. They neither know the new Moses who will lead them.
A particular emphasis is given by the evangelist to clothing and frugal food of John. “John was clothed in camel’s hair and wore a leather garment around his waist.” The strange clothing that distinguished him was that of the prophets (Zec 13:4) and, in particular, of Elijah who, like John, “wore a mantle of fur with a leather belt around his waist” (2 Kgs 1:8). The content of the Baptist’s preaching (vv. 7-8) was the announcement of the coming of one, stronger than he, who would baptize with the Holy Spirit.
To baptize means to immerse. John immersed in the water those who accepted his invitation to conversion. The gesture expressed the final break with the earlier conduct and the decision to live a whole new life.
This baptism, however, was not enough: the water of the Jordan did not communicate life; it only washed the body. They needed another water, water that would enter the person and would act in him as lifeblood. The Baptist promised it and also indicated who would give it.
The water that submerges kills; but the water that enters, that which is absorbed by plants, animals, man, is life. In these two functions of water two moments of our baptism are recalled. Death to the past is indicated by the immersion in water, the gift of the Spirit is represented by the living water offered by Christ: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and let the one who believes in me drink” (Jn 7:38).