Al-Maghtas in Arabic means baptism or immersion. The site is located on the east bank of the Jordan River, the river with impetuous waters, following the etymology of its name, considered a magnificence that has always accompanied the history of Israel.
It is the biblical place where the presence of the Most High was revealed over the centuries. It’s the site where the history of humanity was touched by eternity; the point that binds the human person to the divine mystery.
On the east bank had also appeared the chariot of fire that lifted up the prophet Elijah.
Jews here had crossed the Jordan at the time of their rebirth: they had been slaves in Egypt and were free in the Promised Land.
We read in the Gospel of John: “These things were done in Bethania, beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.” It is a reference to the Baptism of Jesus that took place the day after the questions raised by the Levites and by the high priests to John the Baptist, mediator of salvation, on his person and actions. Baptism as a symbol of death and rebirth, of life touched by sin and redeemed by grace. This purification led to hear the word of God inviting us all to conversion.
Since the early centuries of Christianity this site has been a pilgrimage destination, with churches and monasteries erected in the surroundings. However, archaeological ruins alone are not enough to make it a place of salvific memory, at the most they could be considered sites of artistic value, places where the creative spirit of the human person or of a civilization has been able to express the beauty.
Indeed, the silent message perceived by those who visit the site, has a different peculiarity: in this unquestionably beautiful place, we perceive something else, that expresses a reality engraved on that land, in those flowing waters.
UNESCO’s secular recognition as a World Heritage Site, in circumstances when religious monuments, the great temples, monasteries are reduced to rubble, reaffirms that people’s glances need to rest upon what attracts the mind and heart, and is enduring.
Given this proclamation pre-eminent debates, as well as the philosophical and theological speculations, on the historical Jesus, or on the real and concrete historicity of the figure of Jesus of Nazareth, should stop and reflect on the fact that the man Jesus, for us Christians the Man Jesus, has truly lived, and existed.
The Gospel tradition is not a narration lacking reality, although it is not meant as a chronicle or a historical narrative. Its purpose is to convey the encounter with the Redeemer of humanity.
The Church Fathers, who had the closest view of events as they took shape, have always considered Jesus’ Baptism as a new creation, with the Spirit descended as a dove that reposed on the Son of God to renew the creation into bonds of fraternity and peace.
If all of us, living witnesses of migrations, wars, and massacres constantly perpetrated against the weakest and the poorest, understood the message delivered by that site and, in the end, accepted by UNESCO, we would draw conclusions leading to peace, to understanding between peoples, and to mutual acceptance..