How Jesus Begins His Public Life
Jesus spent most of the first 30 years of his life in Nazareth. He begins to hear about John the Baptist and his preaching. He knows that John’s message is advising and alerting people to prepare for the Kingdom of God, and to prepare for one who is to come, one whose sandal John himself is not worthy to unlatch. Eventually Jesus senses that he is to be involved with this, that he too is called to preach about the kingdom of God and his own role in it. But how?
So he sets out to see John the Baptist who has been preaching at the River Jordan. In my prayer I imagine Jesus leaving Nazareth and going to the Jordan River, a journey of at least 33 miles. As he reaches the breast of the hill overlooking the river he sees the people gathered there, he sees John by the river preaching. How he must have been filled with admiration and pride at what John was doing; but at the same time there were his own questions about what Jesus himself would do next. Should John be involved or not? Was Jesus proceeding in the manner which his Father wanted? And if yes, what else did that entail?
Although Jesus’ baptism is found in all four Gospels, The Acts of the Apostles, in Paul’s letters and Peter’s epistle, these sources give us few details regarding the event: Jesus journeys to the Jordan, John somewhat reluctantly baptizes him. There is some kind of revelation from his Father, a theophany--the Spirit descends upon Jesus and he (and perhaps others) hears a voice say that "This is my beloved son; my favor rests on him." This is interpreted as the Father assuring Jesus that he is proceeding in the right way.
For a variety of reasons some modern day scripture scholars tell us, as does common sense, that Jesus and John must have spent some time together, weeks or month or even longer. Jesus would have discussed with John his own call, how he might proceed now, how his endeavors for the kingdom of God will fit in, connect and continue what John is doing.
Eventually Jesus realizes that the Spirit of His Father is calling him to consider and ponder all of this in prayer. The Scriptures simply say that the Spirit leads Jesus to the desert and that he spends many days there considering the mission God is calling him to. It is there Jesus concludes that he is to gather his own disciples and proceed on his own.
How much Jesus is like us in making one of the most radical and important decisions of his life: he carefully investigates, consults, pays attention to the Spirit of God in his life, contends with the spirit of Evil, and prays long and hard. It is then he finally decides and moves decisively forward, proclaiming as John has, that the Kingdom of God is at hand.
Jim Blumeyer, S.J.