Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land - 06/03/2000 info:
Bethany beyond the Jordan

"There was a man sent by God. His name was John." Like the prophets of Israel John the Baptiser preached the Kingdom of God which was at hand. The wrath of God would manifest itself if the people would not repent. As a sign of purification of sins the son of the priest Zacharia baptised them in the waters of the river Jordan in Bethany on the other side of the Jordan. He reminded what prophet Ezechiel, himself a priest, spoke of: A new covenant, characterized by the purification of sins and the gift of a new heart. Messianic hopes flourished again in the people who suffered from the Roman occupation. Some people took John to be the Messiah, but he refused this title. He baptised only with water. When he saw Jesus coming towards him he said: "This is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world". He is the lamb of the new Passover, the servant of the Lord like a voiceless lamb, and the new Isaac whom Abraham compared to the lamb of his sacrifice.

Jesus mixed with the repentant people and when John asked for it, he too went down in the waters of Jordan. As the other pilgrims he too experienced fear and hope. It was then that the Holy Spirit descended upon him and remained with him. The voice of the Father proclaimed: "This is my beloved son, the one I cherish", quoting the poem of the suffering Servant from prophet Isaiah.

In the river Jordan Jesus was commissioned with his mission of the Messiah. As the Servant of the Lord he received the mission to be the light of the world. From this very moment Jesus presented himself as a prophet sent by God, as one who received his Spirit. The Father gave everything into his hands. He was aware of the unique relationship with the Father. He prayed when he came out of the waters of Jordan; he was sure that his relationship towards the Father was preceded by the Father’s love for him. Moments following his baptism are moments of internal illumination which transformed his life. He understood his vocation; he had to bring to humanity the revelation he just received. He is sure that God loves all human beings. In Jesus God became close to mankind. An internal strength pushes him forward to communicate to others what he experienced himself.

The whole Gospel is born of this experience of Jesus in the river Jordan. He was presented as the Servant of God. It is not the triumphalistic messianism that interests him, but the way of the Suffering Servant. He shall baptise with fire and the Holy Spirit. The same theophany will be repeated during the Transfiguration of Jesus when Moses and Elijah will bear witness to him.

"Can you be baptised with the baptism I shall receive?" Jesus asked the sons of Zebedee who wanted to sit on his right and left in the Kingdom. His real baptism was his immersion in death. The believer , when baptised, is buried in the death of Jesus. He dies with him and gets new life with him.

The Holy Father wanted to make a pilgrimage to the traditional places of the baptism of Jesus in order to put a question to the Christian believers: What did you do with your baptism? The disciple is not greater than the Master. He must accept to die every day to sin in order to receive new life.

The pope will reflect on the meaning of Baptism when he will bless the house of the neo-catechumens on the Mount of the Beatitudes. The Church Fathers presented baptism as descending and ascending : the believer must go down in the death of Jesus and come up with the power of the Spirit. To live out the Beatitudes one must accept the logic of baptism, renounce the values of the world in order to accept the new values given by Jesus. The pilgrim wants to go to what is essential. The most essential element of Christian life is baptism in the name of the Father, the Son and the Spirit. Christian life is life of communion with the Trinity. It is this important truth that the Pope wants to remind the Christians of.

Frédéric Manns

Created / Updated Monday, March 06, 2000 at 12:16:10