Baptized by John in the Jordan

Somewhere inside my HarperCollins Study Bible, a sticky note continues to hold on for dear life. It is as if that little piece of paper still fears the professor whom it has to thank for its existence. The post-it is pink. My pen was blue. “Across all four gospels,” reads the heading.

That Jesus was baptized by John – this made the list. Both the ancient evangelists and contributors to the modern historical Jesus movement scholars are sure of the location. John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River.

My experience, and take it for what it’s worth, is that the location is lost on us. I’m not saying that no one among us knows a thing about the Jordan River; rather, that I think we get to this part of the story and sense that what we are supposed to do is talk about baptism.

Guilty as charged. I have done the thing. I have skipped over the always- important piece of bible reading, which is to take seriously what the text meant to the characters in the story and to the first audience to hear it.

This time around, I’m trying to imagine Mark 1:4-11 geographically. Maybe a better way to say that is with the word movement. The movement of the people, here, is significant.

People from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him (v.5). John was calling people back to the body of water that was the river that ran through them.

I begin to catch on when I think about the effect of traveling to the Eastern Shore. Ask any of us who are from there; the drive across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel just does something to you. It’s an immersion before the immersion in a way that is not unlike the experience of Israelites traveling across the Jordan to get the opposite bank where John could be found.

Jesus makes the trip. Jesus travels from Nazareth to the Jordan and it’s worth imagining what it felt like. The smells and the sounds and the skyline, as he made his way there...consider the tug of the water before he came up out of it (v.9).


Rachel May