Question: have you ever had the experience of listening to great music or looking at a painting and discovering you are no longer listening or looking at something out there, separate from you, but somehow, in some way you have become one with the sound, the image and the performer? So much so that for a brief moment whom you thought you were has become lost to you and you are completely enfolded within the experience. You are the music, the painting, the performer and they are you. There is no distinction. This is no longer about you are as a solitary human being, you are subsumed into the totality of being.
Todays Gospel reading introduces humanity to such an experience, not as the sole possession of Jesus, a special interaction between Jesus and God, but the very reality of our own existence.
William Loader suggests that “In a world of above and below, above and below meet in Jesus.” I suggest not as the sole possession of Jesus but as the exemplar of an experience that is normative for you and I. Some see Jesus’ baptism as the public connecting of God and Jesus, as a way of saying clearly who Jesus is and therefore setting him apart from the rest of humanity.
It is interesting that Luke situates the experience with the following words, ‘21Now when all the people were baptised, and when Jesus also had been baptised..’ This was not a private experience. It happened as the culmination of the baptism of all present. In some mystical way all present are therefore gathered up in the generosity of God who gives herself fully to Jesus. By association through presence and act all there are included in the proclamation God makes to Jesus.
How can this be? Jesus is Gods’ son. They are human beings who came for repentance. We are ordinary human beings and therefore can not, by definition, be included in these words.
The truth is this: Jesus is God born into human form, material, physical, real and touchable, not in any way unlike us. Gods statement, ‘“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” could be rephrased as ‘You are my person, my fully alive human being, with who I am well pleased’.
What Jesus experiences at his baptism, he experiences on behalf and clearly articulates what has happened to all who has been baptised – God has generously flowed out of the Godhead into humanity in such a way that the two have become one – God has become, or is, the ground of being for every human being. Meister Eckhart, the 14th century mystic and teacher tells us that, ‘You should know that God must act and pour Himself into the moment He finds you ready.’ [German sermon 4, trans M.O’C. Walshe]
Edward Markquart, suggests that this happens at our baptism. He writes: “In our baptism, similar things happen to us as happened to Jesus when he was baptised: 1) The Spirit of God comes into us and remains in us. 2) We are declared to be a child of God. 3) We hear that God is well pleased with us.”
Thomas Merton, in his book The New Man, picks up this theme as follows:
For now I had entered into the everlasting movement of that gravitation which is the very life and spirit of God: God’s own gravitation towards the depths of his own infinite nature, his goodness without end. And God, that center who is everywhere, and whose circumference is nowhere, finding me, through incorporation with Christ, incorporated into this immense and tremendous and tremendous gravitational movement which is love, which is the Holy Spirit, loved me.
The mystical insight found with in the baptism of Jesus is this: we are more than our physicality and what we believe gives us concrete being and identity. We are more than the space and time in which we live. And we are often so preoccupied, attached to what we believe identifies us, our troubles, concerns, possessions, relationships and more, that we live a life time without actualising the gift God pours into every human being.
Jesus is the example of what is possible when we do. Jesus detaches himself from the concerns of this world and becomes one with the concerns of God, of love, right up to and including obedience unto death. This is the unity of God and person living life to its fullness, with neither holding anything back.
Merton writes, “We exist solely for this, to be the place He has chosen for His presence, His manifestation in the world, His epiphany.” Essential Writings, Cunningham) Yet we are unaware of this possibility for most of our existence, swallowed up by the sensuality of life and the propaganda of consumerism and worldly concerns, we sideline this experience as only belonging remarkable people, of which Jesus is the most remarkable.
The baptism of Jesus is the one-ing of God and man and the recognition that all is well with such an endeavour. For us, the people who share in Jesus baptism, Eckhart writes:
‘People think God has only become a human being there – in his historical incarnation (at his birth) – but that is not so; for God is here – in this very place – just as much incarnate as in a human being long ago. And this is why God has become a human: that he might give birth to you as his only begotten son/daughter, and as no less.’
This is the epiphany in the baptism, the moment when Jesus recognises and is filled with the identity of God and holds this experience out to all who share his baptism. We do not know how many others were there with Jesus, yet , mystically, they were all included in and shared in Jesus awakening to his or humanities oneness with God. This gift is given to us all and as we achieve detachment from space and time we begin to live the eternal life which is ours already.
I will allow Merton to close our meditation on Jesus Baptism in the following words:
“At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us… It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely…I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.”