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01-10-2021 The Baptism of the Lord

"The Baptism of Christ"

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

1617– 1682




The ‘John the Baptist’ series was probably painted circa 1655 for the Monastery of San Leandro in Murillo’s home town of Seville where it remained until 1812. It marks an important step in the development of Murillo’s style. ‘The Baptism of Christ’ already demonstrates mastery of brushstroke, reticent colouring and delicately blurred faces. The forms are not yet so delicately linked together, and the profoundly serious atmosphere has none of the sweetness of many of his later works, of which the Berlin gallery owned two significant examples until 1945.

Murillo clearly surpasses the altar-panel painted by Rubens in Mechelen and to which Murillo’s composition owes a great deal, particularly in the naturalness of the two life-size figures.

A sprinkling of written quotations emphasises the didactic quality of the picture which was reduced in height and breadth by about 20 centimetres.


Mark 1:7-11

7 “In the course of his 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.

8 I have baptised you with water,

but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’

9 It was at this time that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee

and was baptised in the Jordan by John.

10 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.

11 And a voice came from heaven,

‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’”


The context

From the beginning of Christianity all Four Gospels offered similar accounts of this episode[1]. These wanted to make it clear who John the Baptist was in order to avoid any confusion between him and the identity of Jesus the Messiah and Son of God.

John himself says “Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am …”[2] He is only the messenger preparing the way[3]. For that reason, Mark’s Gospel immediately states: “This is the beginning of the story of how Jesus Christ, the Son of God, brought the Good News to men.”[4]

The two roles are well defined: Jesus is the Son of God and is the awaited Messiah; John the Baptist is the precursor, the messenger.

John the Baptist

John has accompanied us throughout the Season of Advent and is again helping us at the end of Christmastide. He is pointing to Jesus while saying: “He will baptise you the Holy Spirit”[5]. John the Baptist thereby introduces the ministry of Jesus.

A new era has begun; in fact it is a special time, a Kairos. The project of John the Baptist was about repentance in order to prepare people’s hearts to welcome the Messiah.

The ministry of Jesus is about the bestowing of the Holy Spirit who will enable those who receive Him to begin a new life.

The Jordan, the river which the People of Israel had to cross to the Promised Land, now becomes the place where Jesus is baptised and in doing so, takes us to a New Era and a New Land, that is, the Kingdom of God.


Jesus came to the River Jordan as the Son of God who, unlike the followers of John the Baptist, did not need purification but wanted to be baptised in solidarity with the whole of humanity.

The scene of the Baptism besides being a theophany also breaks the silence of the hidden years in Nazareth. Now the Father confirms Jesus as the prophetic Word of life. A Word that comes to us as a proclamation of grace and liberation. He is the Son of God.

Jesus came to show us a way to the Father. It is the Kingdom of God that will change the horizons of the history of humanity; the place in which God will be our Father and the Lord of our lives.

The Father and the Holy Spirit

The words of the Father coming to Jesus through the Holy Spirit are a great help in understand how important this moment before He begins his ministry truly is[6].

We can say that the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan was the moment in which Jesus had to take a life-changing decision. For thirty years Jesus stayed at home in Nazareth, now his home is the world.

Everyone faces moments when they must take important decisions in life. An undecided life is a wasted life; a frustrated life is an unhappy life. Nazareth was home … now the time to leave has arrived. Jesus answered the summons and the challenge of God his Father.

It was a moment of identification. Jesus was determined to identify with God, not for his own sake, but for the sake of others. He is the Son of God.

It was a moment of approval. Jesus had decided to leave home, and now He receives a sign of approval from God the Father. The approval comes when God declares that Jesus is his Son.

It is the moment of empowerment. John’s message was about the axe laid to the root of the tree … and a consuming fire[7] … . The Spirit descends like a dove[8] as a symbol of gentleness. Jesus will be a conqueror, but his conquest will be of love and gentleness.

Our Baptism

The Baptism of Jesus transformed the baptism of John into the Sacrament of the coming of the Spirit. When someone is baptised “in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, the Spirit descends upon that individual and the voice of the Father says “You are my child”. All who are baptised become children of God.


Psalm 95:1-3

“Come let us praise Yahweh joyfully,

Acclaiming the Rock of our safety;

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving,

Acclaiming him with music”.


Slow me down, Lord!

Ease the pounding of my heart

By the quieting of my mind.

Steady my harried pace

With a vision of the eternal reach of time.

Give me,

Amidst the confusions of my day,

The calmness of the everlasting hills.

Break the tensions of my nerves

With the soothing music

Of the singing streams

That live in my memory.

Slow me down, Lord,

And inspire me to send my roots deep

Into the soil of life’s enduring values

That I may grow toward the stars

Of our greater destiny.


The directness of the Baptist is not erased by the gentleness of Christ because the message of John the Baptist lost none of its significance with the arrival of Jesus. Jesus approved John’s message and sealed it, as if it were, by his self-giving.

We contemplate in the light of the Baptism of Jesus those moments in our lives when we faced difficult decisions, and see how we accepted or resisted the inspirations of the Holy Spirit.

We contemplate Jesus who accepts his identity as the Son of God, his Father. This is an important moment for us to consider our own Baptismal Promises.

We give thanks to God for the gift of faith.

We praise God for the gift of belonging and for the gift of our

Christian Community.

In silence we allow the Spirit to fill us with the awareness that our history is part of the greater history of Salvation that God is carrying forward even in our times.


[1] Mark 1: 9-11; Matthew 3: 13-17; Luke 3: 21-22; John 1: 32-34 [2] Mark 1:7 [3] Malachy 3:1 “I send my messenger before you and he will prepare your road for you” [4] Mk 1:1 [5] Mk 1,8 [6] Mark 1:9-11 “… Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my son, the beloved; may favour rests on you’”. [7] Matthew 3: 7-12; Luke 3: 7-13 [8] Mark 1: 10

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