The Gospel for this the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord gives explicit testimony about the humility of the Baptist, and about the love of the Father for the Son.
In the course of his preaching John the Baptist said, ‘Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals. I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’
It was at this time that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised in the Jordan by John. No sooner had he come up out of the water than he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’
It is at least interesting that following the testimony of John about Jesus we then get the Father’s testimony.
John the Baptist speaks of Jesus and says that of the two of them Jesus is the more powerful.
In our culture, that fosters and prizes individualism, that might suggest Jesus as being the more powerful in and of himself – a sort of superman, possessed of superhero powers.
In the culture of the time, much less preoccupied with the attributes of the individual and much more with the family one belongs too, the attention would be to the power and authority they command. If Jesus is strong and powerful it is because of his relationships, his family.
But he is then claimed by the Father, speaking from heaven. ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’
In Matthew’s gospel the Father speaks to us: ‘This is my Son…’ Somehow it is more intimate and moving that in Mark (and Luke) we are privileged hearers, witnesses, to the Father’s speaking directly and personally to his Son.
The power of Jesus comes from his Father, from his relationship with him. It is a power to be exercised not over and against others, but for others, restoring them to health and life.
In our baptism we are incorporated into Christ. We become members of his body. Whatever our other relationships they are relativised, contextualised, by our relationship with him. And whatever our individual strengths they are as nothing compared to the strength we, together, share with him.
Photographs of the font at Salisbury Cathedral, shortly after its installation. (c) 2010, Allen Morris.