Jesus appears in Galilee when the Jewish people were going through a profound religious crisis. They’d gone for a long time feeling that God is far away from them. The heavens were «closed». A kind of invisible wall seemed to get in the way of God’s communication with God’s people. No one was able to hear God’s voice. There weren’t any prophets. No one spoke, moved by the Spirit.
What was worst was the feeling that God had forgotten them. God no longer was concerned about Israel’s problems. Why did God remain hidden? Why was God so far away? Surely many remembered the passionate prayer of an ancient prophet who called out thus to God: «Would that you would rend the heavens and come down».
The first ones to hear Mark’s Gospel had to be surprised. According to his account, when Jesus came out of the waters of the Jordan, after being baptized, he «saw the heavens torn apart» and experienced «the Spirit descending on him». Finally the encounter with God was possible. A man filled with God’s Spirit was walking on the face of the earth. His name was Jesus and he came from Nazareth.
That Spirit that descended on him is God’s own breath that creates life, the force that renews and heals all living beings, the love that transforms everything. That’s why Jesus dedicated himself to liberating life, healing it and making it more human. The early Christians didn’t want to be confused with the Baptist’s disciples. They felt themselves baptized by Jesus, not with water, but with his Spirit.
Without that Spirit, everything about Christianity fades, trust in God disappears, faith is weakened. Jesus ends up reduced to a celebrity from the past, the Gospel becomes a dead letter, love grows cold, and the Church becomes just one more religious institution.
Without Jesus’ Spirit, freedom suffocates, joy goes out, celebration reverts to habit, communion is broken. Without the Spirit, mission is forgotten, hope dies, fears increase, the following of Jesus ends up in religious mediocrity.
Our greatest problem is to forget Jesus and neglect his Spirit. It’s a mistake to try to achieve with organization, work, devotions or pastoral strategies, what can only be born of the Spirit. We need to return to the root, recover the Gospel in its full freshness and truth, we need to be baptized with Jesus’ Spirit.
We don’t need to deceive ourselves. If we don’t allow ourselves to be brought back to life and be recreated by that Spirit, we Christians have nothing important to bring to today’s society, one that is so empty of inner life, so unable to love in solidarity, so needful of hope.
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf