Today’s Feast is a joy-filled one, and a very gentle and peace-filled one (to those who don’t know “the rest of the story” at this point). It’s especially beautiful when one learns that Epiphany once marked THREE events: the Magi, the Baptism, and the Wedding at Cana. The antiphon for the Canticle of Zechariah for Epiphany’s Morning Prayer (Liturgy of the Hours) captures this combination wonderfully:
“Today the Bridegroom claims his bride, the Church, since Christ has washed away her sins in Jordan’s waters; the Magi hasten with their gifts to the royal wedding; and the wedding guests rejoice, for Christ has changed water into wine, alleluia.”
It is a quiet and peaceful day, specifically today: Jesus approaches John, and although there is no substantive narrative or dialogue in Mark (this morning’s Gospel), still we have the affirmation of Jesus as Son, sanctioned by the presence of the Spirit and the voice from heaven.
It’s truly lovely, but let’s continue the story. The Spirit drives Jesus out into the desert to confront Satan (it’s the same verb, by the way, used to describe Jesus’ own exorcisms!). And He does, though with less detail in Mark than in the longer versions of Matthew and Luke that we are all more familiar with. Jesus triumphs—for the time being…
Let’s move toward the end of Jesus’ public ministry and the other two “J’s” of my title: James and John. As we read in Mark 10, the “boys” want the glory of sitting at Jesus’ right and left in the Kingdom (sorry, for them there’s no room for the Blessed Mother!). And Jesus’ challenge to them is what I’m interested in: “You do not know what you are asking. Can you…be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And what is this “baptism”? It is nothing less than the initiation, the commitment, to follow the call to the Cross. It is the same as the cup He must drink, with which He challenged James and John—the one He prayed in Gethsemane not to have to drink. Of course, James and John were asleep (with Peter) at this point. They didn’t know the agony, they didn’t know the acceptance of Jesus and His Fiat—“Not my will but Thine be done.” But this is the culmination, the climax, of His baptism—the one so peacefully begun at the Jordan River. If He is the “Beloved Son,” He must do the will of the Beloved Father… Now we come to our own baptism. No, most of us had no say in it when we were infants, but every single time we come into the church (this present year excepted!!) and bless ourselves with the baptismal water we are re-claiming and re-affirming the fact of our baptism—a baptism into the death of the Lord (Romans 6:3). This isn’t about cute babies and lovely white linen and lace gowns and special candles and fragrant anointings—it’s about commitment. Are we willing to drink the cup, to be baptized? Someone else said “yes” for us, long ago; will we continue to say “yes” today?