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SpiritualDirection.com / Catholic Spiritual Direction

94. What Pleases God (Mark 1:7-13)

February 14, 2018 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Meditations, The Better Part

“Jesus came to John, and received baptism at his hands. Could anything be more wonderful? The boundless river that gladdens the City of God is washed by a few drops of water. The source without limits that engenders life for all mankind and is beyond all understanding is covered by the poor waters of this world.” – St. Hippolytus

Mark 1:7-13: In the course of his [St. John the Baptist’s] preaching he said, ‘Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals. I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’ It was at this time that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised in the Jordan by John. No sooner had he come up out of the water than he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’ Immediately afterwards the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness and he remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after him.

Christ the Lord St. John the Baptist was the first prophet to have arisen in Israel for almost three centuries. He was such an impressive figure that the people thought he might be the Messiah. He had so much influence that King Herod eventually had to imprison him in order to avoid a popular revolt against the King’s scandalous behavior, which John was denouncing. Even a hundred years after Christ’s resurrection this prophet’s disciples continued to carry on his mission of preaching repentance and baptizing. Christ himself called John “a prophet and more than a prophet… the greatest among men born of women.”

Yet John himself points out that “someone is following me” (i.e., Jesus) who is “more powerful than I.” To emphasize his point, he adds that he “is not worthy to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals.” Taking off someone’s sandals, in the ancient near east, was a task reserved for slaves. Coming in from a journey, the dust of the roads mixed with manure from the many pack and harness animals caked a traveler’s feet (sandals were the preferred footwear, with no socks). It was a slave’s job to clean those grimy extremities, for which he would need to remove the sandals. So John the Baptist, the greatest of prophets and the greatest of men, claims to be less than a slave in relation to Christ’s greatness. His example should give us plenty of food for thought regarding how we treat the Lord and where we are on the scale of humility.

Maybe John thought that the Messiah would make his appearance with majesty and impressive glory. That’s how God had shown himself to his people in the Old Testament. But the actual encounter between the Lord and his herald is gentler, more intimate. Jesus converses with John as an equal, as a friend. Maybe this was the most shocking part of Christ’s revelation. The Lord appears, but instead of bowling over sinners with a rumble of divine thunder, he calmly submits to taking his place among sinners, and the Holy Spirit alights just as calmly, just as gently, in the form of a dove.

Christ the Teacher Jesus already knew that he was the Father’s “beloved son” on whom the Father’s “favor rests.” The voice from heaven that announced this did so for our benefit. There are only a few times in the New Testament when God’s voice speaks from heaven, and each time it does, it says the same thing. It reiterates that Jesus is the chosen one, the beloved, and that we are to heed him.

Among the many lessons hidden in those few words is the one that teaches us what pleases God. Up to this point, Jesus had done nothing extraordinary – no miracles, no great speeches, no massive conversions. He had spent thirty years living in a hut in Nazareth, helping his foster-dad in the carpentry shop and doing chores and errands for his mother. And yet, the Father’s favor rests on him; the Father is well pleased with him. Why? Because Jesus has been doing what God asked him to do, and he has been doing it with love.

We don’t need to try and impress God with our shocking sacrifices and earthshaking apostolic endeavors. All he desires from us is a heart centered on him, seeking to do his will. If all Christians were to focus on doing God’s will for their lives, the whole Church would swiftly move forward in perfect harmony, spreading Christ’s Kingdom like a forest fire. God’s will – nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. When we make this our motto, just as it was for Christ, we too fulfill our vocation of being “beloved children” of the Father, on whom his “favor rests.”

Mark 1:7-13Christ the Friend Jesus did not need to be baptized. He had not sinned, and baptism was a sign of repenting from sin. Yet he chose to be baptized anyway. It is the recurring theme of his life. He didn’t have to come to earth at all; he didn’t have to suffer and die on the Cross. He didn’t have to leave us his real presence in the Eucharist, his Holy Spirit, and the Church to be our guide. In fact, he didn’t have to create us in the first place. But he chose to do all these things, simply out of love. Everything God does is motivated by love – everything. He even willingly goes into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil for forty days, not because he needed to be purified (he was without sin), but because he wanted to share our lot as wholly as possible. He is the friend without compare, because he is completely unselfish, and therefore totally trustworthy.

Christ in My Life Thank you for reminding me of your greatness, Lord Jesus. You are the Father’s only begotten Son. You are the Eternal Word. When I turn my thoughts to you, the light of your wisdom penetrates and nourishes my soul, like sunlight that streams through a window with its shutters opened. Jesus, you are the Lord of life and history; be my Lord and friend as well.

Thank you for not overpowering me. You are meek and humble of heart. You are close to me, guiding me, entering into my daily life so calmly, so unexpectedly. Keep me tuned in to your action in my life, so I can always welcome and obey you, just as John the Baptist did.

If you had refused to come and save me, I would never have discovered the meaning of life. But because of you I know it: I was created to love God and experience his love for me. All I need to do in life is seek and heed your will for me, in big things and little things. Thank you, Lord for coming to enlighten and strengthen me. Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done!

 

PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.

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Art for this post on Mark 1:7-13: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. Christ in the Wilderness, Ivan Kramskoy, 1872, PD-US author's life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

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