Tuesday, 6 January 2009

The Baptism of Jesus in Mark (And His Crucifixion)

The Gospel for this coming week (RCL/APBA Baptism of the Lord - B) uses Mark's version of the baptism of Jesus. It is interesting to note (what must be surely) the intentional parallels between the baptism of Jesus and his crucifixion in Mark.

The parallels are:
  • the use of schizomai (torn/ripped) in Mk 1:10 & 15:38. (Matthew and Luke retain the verb in the crucifixion, but simply use 'opened' in their respective versions of the baptism of Jesus.)

  • The heavens are torn apart, as is the temple curtain. The temple curtain referred to was likely not the curtain separating the Holy of Holies within the temple complex, but the curtain at the entrance to the temple building itself. Josephus (Jewish War 5:212-214) says that this curtain had on it a panoramic vision of the cosmos! (See here also.) If this were so, then this curtain may have been visible from the place of crucifixion, explaining the centurion's 'confession'.

  • The descent of the Spirit and the descending tear of the temple curtain, explicitly mentioned by Mark.

  • The voice announcing the sonship of Jesus, in the first case the voice of God, in the latter the voice of the centurion.

  • The use of pneuma (Spirit, 1:10) and cognate (breathed, 15:39)

  • John the Baptist as Elijah (1:6; 9:13) and waiting for Elijah (15:35)

Interestingly, baptism and crucifixion can be coordinated with the transfiguration in similar terms (See Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man, p. 391):

  • descending cloud
  • a voice announcing the sonship of Jesus
  • and the appearance of Elijah.

All three theophanies come at key intervals: the beginning of Jesus' ministry, the 'middle'of his ministry after Peter's confession, the first passion prediction, and Peter's misunderstanding of the nature of Jesus' messiahship. (See Mk 8:27-38). And each of the theophanies increase in public visibility as the gospel unfolds, from Jesus' private experience at his baptism, to the three witnesses to the transfiguration, to th very public event of crucifixion, curtain tearing and death of Jesus.

Possible ideas to explore:

  • The apocalyptic nature of the baptism of Jesus. (See Isa 64:1-2)

  • The heavens torn open heralds God's access to the world in the first place rather than our access to God.

1 comment:

  1. I have just been thinking about Jesus' baptism in some deatil, having written a piece for Thinking Anglicans, arguing that Jesus wasn't faking it, that he wanted to be really baptised -- with all the (juicy) theological problems that entails (as Matthew realised). Since then I was wondering whether we shouldn't interpret Jesus' baptism in terms of his crucifixion, given the references to this 'other' baptism that he had to endure. Does the type of self-emptying implied in the decison to go to Jerusalem (after a confirmation of his baptismal experience at the Transfiguration) suggest that this is how he understood his 'first' baptism? What was he letting go of at his baptism? Whatever it was, it was marked by his being enlivened (converted?) by the Spirit.

    This letting go of life seems to me to be part and parcel of the life of the Trinity: the Father begets the Son, but the Son does not cling to that life, setting himself up as a rival God, but empties himself. The life they share or exchange, that which is not Father or Son, is the Spirit, who proceeds from the Father to the Son (and secondarily) from the Son back to the Father. This all gets revealed in the human life of Jesus, where the same dynamic obtains (Phil 2.5). It is this dynamic of self-giving that saves us; it is revealed in the Passion and Resurrection; it is even effected by the Passion and Resurrection; but was was effected was not something new, but rather the living out of the heart of a Trinitarian human life.

    Anyway, some thoughts provoked by your own thoughts....

    Joe Cassidy