The Bible, like all great literature, has boundless depth. No matter how familiar we are with a Scriptural passage, there is always some new insight that we can find, and often desperately need.
I was reminded of this recently when reading about the baptism of Jesus. Jesus encountered John the Baptist, preaching a change of heart and baptizing in the River Jordan. He convinced the reluctant John to immerse Him as well.
When Jesus emerged from the water, the sky opened and the Spirit of God descended upon Him. Still shaking the water out of His ears, Jesus heard a heavenly voice declare, “This is My beloved Son. My favor rests on Him.”
For some reason, I felt compelled to spend time on this. I reread the various accounts in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Comparing them, two things struck me.
First, all three writers place the baptismal story at the very beginning of the public life of Jesus.
Second, none of the accounts indicate that anyone else saw the hovering dove or heard the fatherly attestation. As a matter of fact, in Luke, it happens later when Jesus is at prayer.
While the Church calls it a theophany, a public manifestation of God to humans, it was something intensely personal. It was for His sake, not some theatrical proof of divinity for the benefit of others.
It was foremost an affirmation of abiding love. It was something Jesus had to know if His life was to have meaning, much less accomplish its mission.
Jesus did nothing to deserve this. Maybe He had been a model child, earning straight A’s in yeshiva. Maybe He was a skilled craftsman or a record-setting striker for the Nazareth Nebels.
But this wasn’t about anything He had done or even what He was about to do. It was about affection and acceptance at the core of His relationship to God.
I know that feeling from time to time. It comes only when I let go completely: let go of what I want others to think of me; let go of what I have accomplished or think that I should; let go of all those things that I assume I need, to make me happy.
Through no merit of our own, we are beloved. We belong, we are worthy, we are, as the psalmist says, “wonderfully made.”
But the baptizer was right — it does involve change, not for God’s love but because of it.