Sybil 1997

Gospel text

Mark 1: 7-11

7 After me comes someone stronger than me, of whom I am not worthy, after bending over, to untie the straps from his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water, he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

Around the same time when John the Baptist was inviting people to a baptism of new life positioning, Jesus arrived from Nazareth of Galilee to be baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 When he came out of the water, he experienced the opening of the sky and the descent of the Spirit upon him in the manner of a dove. 11 He also heard a voice from heaven saying, "You are my Son whom I love, you are my happiness!"


Different paths

Gospel commentary - Homily

The decisive moments of a life

I would have liked to hear Jesus of Nazareth being interviewed in a "Talk Show". I would have liked to know the defining moments of his life, the people who influenced him, the events that marked him. I would have liked to know what led him one day to leave home, to leave work, to distance himself from the family, all to become a traveling preacher. My interest in the subject does not come from a simple journalistic curiosity, but from the desire to answer the question: how does one become an authentic being, how do you become fully yourself?

In the absence of an interview, this Sunday's Gospel offers me, through Mark's pen, the first Christians' perception on what Jesus' vocation was. In particular, the role of John the Baptist (his cousin, according to Luke), which triggered a movement of renewal and conversion at the time. I guess that this movement touched something that was dear to the heart of Jesus, so much that he began to walk with others to join John. But at the same time, Mark insists that the vocation of Jesus is greater than that of John: "He who is stronger than me ... I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Spirit Holy ". By the 60s or 70s, it was clear to Christians that there was no common measure between the transformations brought by John and those made by Jesus.

The way in which the decisive moment of Jesus' vocation is presented seems both simple and confusing. Jesus had the inner experience of being inhabited by a spiritual force (the sky opens and the Spirit descends upon him) and of beeing chosen and excessively loved by God (You are my Son whom I love, you are my happiness). I have often noticed that the true spiritual experiences are simple: a word that imposes itself on the mind in a specific place, a conviction that suddenly becomes obvious at a specific time. What is confusing is the way Mark presents the experience: the sky that opens up, a Spirit that descends, a voice that is heard. But I can understand that it is almost impossible to talk about inner experiences without feeling betrayed by words. Then I accept that one wants to translate the feeling that God finally makes his presence felt after such a long silence by using the image of the heavens that open up like the door of a house; I accept that we want to represent the spiritual force that moves quickly in the manner of a bird traveler, especially the dove, image of the love of God for his people (Psalm 74,19) and human tenderness (Song of Songs 2,14); I accept the use of Psalm 2, which was recited in Israel during the enthronement ceremonies of kings in their new functions, and which was later used to describe what the messiah will be, to express the conviction of Jesus to feel deeply loved by God and called to a mission.

When I take a step back from the Gospel of Mark and try to retrace the path of Jesus' life, a few thoughts come to mind. The encounter of Jesus with John was decisive in his life, but would this encounter have taken place without a heart eager for the absolute, without a spirit in search during these long years in Galilee? The Gospel presents Jesus as greater than John. But these words partially reflect the reality, since the mission of Jesus, launched with John the Baptist, confirmed with his conviction of being loved and chosen by the God of Israel, will eventually create a situation so new that it will lead Christians to break out with Judaism. In the liturgy, the story ends here. But I find it very instructive that Mark, so interested in the man of action in Jesus, later presents a Jesus in the solitude of the desert, as if to take stock after the experience of baptism, but facing at the same time various dark forces (tempted by Satan) who harassed him and cannot be conquered (harmony with the wild beasts and the service of the angels) without accepting this fight.

The liturgy offers us this story to underline the baptism of Jesus, shortly after having celebrated his birth at Christmas. But in fact, the focus of Mark's story is not the baptism of Jesus, but the call to a mission. And I symbolically see my own situation. I was baptized 2 days after my birth, because of a grandfather who had to leave for his work far away. But it is not this baptism that has been decisive in my life, but all those people who have helped me to feel deeply and tenderly loved, and have given me the desire to help people on my path to become truly themselves, even though I had to live through painful breaks later. Yes, I can speak of a force that inhabits me, a call to follow Jesus. Would not it be only now that I truly live my baptism? I would like so much to live this celebration listening to what I am deeply, reminding myself of the decisive moments of my life, in the manner of Jesus.


-André Gilbert, Gatineau, September 1999