by Kathy Christianson
In preparation for today, I thought hard about the message in this gospel. Was it about baptism? Was it about who John the Baptist was? And then what really touched me was the Dove.
During this time in Israel, Jesus had a following that was growing in numbers. People starting talking about him a lot. At the same time, John the Baptist also had a large following. John drew a lot of attention by submerging people in water. This action is a part of Jewish custom but usually only performed on Sunday by men to spiritually cleanse themselves for the week. So, a lot of questions were generated because John was submerging anyone who asked whenever they asked.
John the Baptist was a very devout man. He followed the very formal law of Judaism. Part of the philosophy was that you had to frequently repent for your sins so that you would find favor in God’s eyes. If you did not, you would suffer.
The Jewish Temple priests became very confused. So who is the Messiah? Is it John the Baptist? After all, look at his following. People are listening to him. Or is it Jesus who the priests had been hearing a lot of about and who also had a large following.
So, you’ve got two holy men. Preaching about God and how important it was to find our way to God. But the two men preached about how to do this in two different ways. John taught more about severe sacrificing which would find favor with God. For example, he ate locusts and honey in the desert. He wore rough animal skins and endured the itching and chafing as a sacrifice to God. John taught that the Kingdom of God was coming and we had better be ready in order to be judged in a positive way.
Jesus’ teachings were focused on love, compassion and forgiveness. Love for yourself and for others. Forgiving others who may have hurt you, no matter how deeply. Forgiving ourselves for our own transgressions. He taught about going inside yourself. For inside us resides the Kingdom of God. It is not something that is coming. It is a place that is already here – inside. We just have to find it.
So, now this Dove. As I mentioned, the temple priests were becoming confused. Who is the Messiah that we’ve been waiting for? Is it John the Baptist or Jesus? When the two holy men are at the banks of the Jordan River and John has baptized Jesus, the answer becomes clear when the Dove appears above the head of Jesus, as a sign that he was the true Messiah.
The Dove represents the Holy Spirit, signifying peace, hope and love. Peace that we need to give ourselves and peace that we need to give others. Hope that we can continue to grow and learn and that our hard work will lead us to God. Love – the essence of who God is and who we need to be – all about Love. It’s almost like God was saying – Listen to this man. He’s got it. He knows The Way. Listen and follow him.
We often see the Dove as a sign of peace. While both Jesus and John the Baptist were great men of their time, there are many men and women who are also great people of our time. These men and women are still teaching us about love for one another, community and peace. One of those people is Martin Luther King, Jr. Tomorrow, as a nation, we celebrate the birthday of this peaceful man (although today is really his birthday). Martin Luther King, Jr. was all about peace…all about hope…and all about love. He taught us and showed us that the way to right wrongs was not through violence but through communication, and having an open mind and an open heart. Like Jesus, he was a preacher. He was humble. His message and the way he lived his life, honoring that message, has inspired us. The legacy he has left us is all about Love. Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of my heroes. I have visited his home, the church that he preached at and his memorial in Atlanta, Georgia. There, I found this post card with a quote from him that is etched in my soul. He said:
Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear; only love
can do that.
Hatred paralyses life, love releases it.
Hatred confuses life. Love harmonizes it.
Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.
Thank you for being the Dove, Mr. King.