When does Jesus become Jesus?
The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus has always been, from the beginning of time: in the beginning was the Word. Luke and Matthew emphasize all the signs that occur while Mary is pregnant and when Jesus is born. His birth is the time he arrives among us, according to these gospels. But in the gospel of Mark, there’s no mention of any of this. Instead, this gospel begins with Jesus’ baptism.
John is in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Lots of people are going out to hear him: people from all over the Judean countryside and even from the great city of Jerusalem. Many are baptized by John in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
Jesus joins these throngs of people. Apparently, he is just one of the crowd. No one seems to know who he is. Nothing seems to mark him as special. Nothing, that is, until it is his turn to be baptized. As Jesus comes up out of the water, he sees the heavens torn apart. The Holy Spirit descends on him like a dove and a voice comes from heaven, saying: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Amazing.
In this gospel, Jesus’ baptism is the moment when Jesus becomes recognizably Jesus: holy, special, singled out. Strangely, however, the text doesn’t tell us if anyone else notices. It is Jesus who sees the heavens torn apart. Was it only Jesus who saw that? Was it only Jesus who felt the Holy Spirit, or heard the voice from heaven? It hardly seems to matter. Jesus has this amazing baptismal experience: and that experience starts him off on a journey towards his calling.
This week, our President was in the midst of a discussion about immigration when he said some words denigrating Caribbean and African nations – words I will not repeat here. I’m sure I don’t need to. You’ve heard them already. Looking out from his vantage point as a wealthy white American man, he expressed his utter disregard and disgust for people with less wealth, with different skin colors, with different cultural and political backgrounds, with more recent American immigration dates.
The president’s comments were profane, but that is not the worst thing about them. These comments and many of the reactions to them demonstrate the continuing power of white supremacy in our nation. Too many believe that white skin and wealth and power are what make people valuable: worthy of citizenship, worthy of human rights, worthy of compassion.
The lies of white supremacy are not only vile in and of themselves. They are worthy of our deepest condemnation because they purposefully obscure and ultimately legitimize the most shameful parts of our collective history. The economic inequality we witness today both within and beyond our country is not the result of a difference in capability or effort, or even the result of chance. It is, instead, the result of a systematic stripping of resources from the hands and lands of people of color. Our white European and American for-bearers took what they wanted to enrich themselves and justified it with racism. We even took people. We took people, people our white fore-bearers kidnapped and enslaved.
To now denigrate and despise those whom we and our ancestors have wronged does not demonstrate American greatness. Instead, it adds grave insult to a devastatingly vast and infinitely painful injustice, a national crime.
Thankfully, the voices of people like our President are not the only ones we hear in this nation. This weekend we give thanks for the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. By extension, we also celebrate the movements that he was a part of: movements for civil rights, and for the alleviation of poverty, and for the end of the Vietnam War. (more…)