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Gospel for Sunday, January 10: Mark 1: 9-11


9And behold, in those days, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. 10And immediately, coming out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending towards him like a dove. 11And a voice came from heaven: “You are my beloved Son: I am well pleased with you”.

Mark 1: 9-11

Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Misericordie, I am Carlo Miglietta, doctor, biblical scholar, layman, husband, father and grandfather (

Also today I share with you a short meditation thought on the Gospel, with special reference to the theme of mercy.

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We are faced with a haggadic genre narrative. The haggadah is a parabolic, symbolic story, with allegorical, mythical and sometimes legendary elements.

9: – There is a solemn biblical introduction: “In those days he came”, and then a “theophany” is represented, that is, a manifestation of the divine in the human sphere.

– “Jesus came from Nazareth”: this is all that interests Mark about the historical Jesus. Let us remember in the Gospel of John when it is said: “What good can come from Nazareth?” (Jn 1.46): nothing! Well, from a disreputable place, comes this unknown guy who queues with sinners and comes to be baptized.

– Jesus is immersed in the Jordan, like the Jews in the waters of the Red Sea, and also in the Jordan before entering the Promised Land. There is a clear symbolic reference to Jesus as the new Israel: just as Israel, emerging from slavery in Egypt, was immersed in the Red Sea, and then in the Jordan, so now Jesus begins his public life immersed in the Jordan. Jesus is the sign of Israel obedient to the Word of IHWH.

10: – The famous “dove” arrives. If we no longer refer concretely to this pigeon, which does not allow us to understand the reality of the Spirit of God, we will have taken a step in our Faith. First of all, it is not stated that a dove descended on Jesus, but that “the Spirit descended upon him like a dove”. The dove is a symbolic way to understand a theophany, that is, that divine intervention that enters the human. The dove, in Hebrew is “Jonah”: and “Jonah” is the divine celestial bird. There is also a prophet who has the name of “dove”, the prophet Jonah, a messenger of God. His story is very clear: the prophet does not want to be a messenger, he escapes on a ship, and is then taken by a “great fish” and vomited onto the beach, to finally obey the mission he was sent for.

The dove is the bird that announces peace to Noah at the end of the flood, and is the very symbol of Israel (Hos 11, Song 1). It is a way of saying that God enters history, that God reveals himself to men. The dove is symbolic, that is, an allegorical way of saying that God enters the world,  it is a metaphor for the Holy Spirit who comes into human life.

– “The heavens were opened”: this statement is very important. It is the end of the separation between God and men: now the heavens are no longer closed to men, man can adhere to the divine, man can come into contact with God

– “the Holy Spirit”: this Spirit is the Ruah IHWH, the same Spirit who hovers over the waters (Gen 1.1), the Spirit who consecrates the Prophets. Here he consecrates the Event, the Christ, almost carrying out a new creation: just as then the Spirit, hovering over the waters, gave birth to creation, so now the Spirit who comes on Christ forms the new man, Jesus Christ, the new Adam, the perfect man.

11: – Some Bibles give an incorrect translation of this verse: “A voice was heard from heaven”; in reality this verse says: “And there came a voice from heaven”. This is very important, because while in the other parallel evangelists it is said: “He was heard”, for Mark it is said: “And he came”: only Jesus hears this voice, it is his spiritual understanding: he understands that he is the chosen one, the Son of God.

We find ourselves faced with a passage that probably means this: following the Baptist, Jesus becomes aware of his Mission, Jesus understands that he is a particular Messenger, that he has a completely special call.

– All the Gospels report this passage, because everyone understands the importance of this intuition on the part of Jesus. Everyone agrees in saying that, following the Baptist, Jesus becomes aware of his vocation, and they express it through this symbolic form which states that while Jesus is immersed in the Jordan the Spirit of God descends upon him, and he hears the voice saying to him: “You are my beloved Son: I am well pleased with you”.

We should not be shocked that this story is symbolic: the reality is precisely in this moment that Jesus understands that he is the Son of God, while the way of expressing it is influenced by some literal genres. These literal genres are:

  1. the biblical tradition of the Exodus interpreted according to Isaiah: Jesus the new Israel. Jesus is immersed as Israel was immersed in the Red Sea.
  2. the ancient prophetic writings: if we read for example Ezekiel, or Jeremiah and Isaiah, we often see that the Spirit of God descends on the Prophet, fills him and consecrates him for his Mission
  3. here there is also already a rereading by the first community through the Christian baptismal experience. Sacramentum is a Latin word that means “sign”. The verb baptìzo means: “I immerse myself”. Baptismal immersion is a sign of our being children of God. Jesus too is recognized as being aware of his mission within the baptismal experience.

What does all this tell us? Jesus truly presents himself as the suffering Servant of Isaiah 42.1, standing in complete solidarity with us, queuing up with sinners.

In Mark 1:12 it says: “You are my beloved Son”: Jesus the Son, the new Adam. The quotation from Isaiah 42.1 that is made in this verse, explicitly recalled in Matthew 12.18, uses the Greek word huiòs which has a double meaning: it means both Son and Servant. In Is 42.1, in fact, we speak of the Servant, a mysterious figure who in Is 53.1-12 is the “man of sorrows”, who clearly knows suffering, from which we are saved. He is an enigmatic figure who disconcerts Israel, who had always expected a triumphant, powerful Messiah who would free them from the yoke of foreign domination. Instead Isaiah says we will be saved from a man despised, rejected by men, beaten by God, humiliated like a dumb sheep led to the slaughter, and silent before his persecutors.

Much thought has been given to this figure of a suffering man. It was thought that the passage referred to Isaiah himself, because as we know the Prophets have always been mistreated, persecuted and killed. Others have identified in this Servant some king of Israel, such as Hezekiah, or other characters such as Jeremiah. Others, however, have given a collective interpretation: this servant of IHWH, who gave his life, would be Israel itself. This interpretation has never been rejected even by the Church: the first great meaning of the Servant by whose wounds we are all healed is the people of Israel, blessing of the Gentiles. We must always have great respect, great love for Israel: the Jews are our “elder brothers”: Paul reminds us (Rom 11,17-21) that we are the wild olive, a bastard plant grafted onto the good olive tree which is Israel. It is the plant, it is the roots that carry and nourish us who are the olive tree, even if the Messiah has not been recognized.

But very soon, in Jewish theology, the Suffering Servant is identified with the Messiah, the one who will bring Salvation at the end of time. No longer through glorious actions and military exploits, but through his suffering and his passion.

Mark presents him as the Servant Son, the Messiah who fulfills the prophecy of the suffering Servant, and gives us the demonstration: he is there among sinners! The great and powerful God makes his public appearance, standing in line, waiting to be baptized. This solidarity with men will reach its fullness on the cross, when Jesus receives true Baptism. Mc 10,38-39 says it: “Jesus said to them: «You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink, or receive the baptism with which I am baptized?”. They replied: “We can.” And Jesus said: «The cup that I drink you will also drink, and the baptism that I receive you will also receive».

In today’s Gospel there is a continuous parallel with the figure of Adam. Adam, the first man, had wanted to make himself like God, eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because the tempter had said: “If you eat you will be like God”. Jesus takes the opposite path: he is the God who becomes man: it is what Paul defines as the mystery of kenosis, of emptying, the path of humiliation, the only one that leads to exaltation. This is why Jesus says he is the first who made himself last, the Servant of all.

All of this has tremendous consequences for us. Jesus enters history anonymously, hidden among the people, and this is a teaching for us too. The Church is called not to talk about power and glory, but to hide among the people, to share the fate of the least, to mingle with sinners, with poor people, with the marginalized, with the excluded, with the discarded. Jesus here does not give a speech, a Pastoral program, but gives an example, a lesson to his Church. We are called to be with others, we are called to service, to empty ourselves, to become last, to die for others.

This is the crazy logic of the Gospel that Mark proposes to us from the first verses: the disciple is called to follow the Master. Here Mark also gives a lesson on the Catechism: he wants to teach a catechumen, that is, someone who wants to become a Christian, that Baptism, for us as for Jesus, is first and foremost a moment of death. Yes, Baptism is a sign of death, death of the old man, death to the things of this world, death to pride, death to the spirit of possession and domination: it is self-denial.

Only through this path can we be resurrected with Christ; as Paul says: “For you were buried with him in baptism, and in him you were also raised together through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col 2:12); “Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new life. Indeed, if we have been completely united with him in a death similar to his, we will also be united with him in his resurrection… But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him” (Rom 6:3-8).

Happy Mercy to all!

Anyone who would like to read a more complete exegesis of the text, or some insights, please ask me at


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