The Baptism of the Lord, cycle B

1st Reading  – Isaiah 42: 1-4, 6-7

This is the first of four ‘suffering servant’ songs from the second part of the Book of Isaiah.  The prophet wishes us to see that God acts through this chosen servant to nullify the power of evildoers and so to restore the harmony and peace that arises where God’s justice is acknowledged and lived. Jesus must have loved the Book of the Prophet Isaiah for he modeled his life on these words concerning what it is like to be God’s servant.  From his baptism on, Jesus knew that he was called and empowered to be this servant – to bring light, and sight, and freedom to all in bondage. God’s justice was one of compassion for all.  Like Jesus by our baptism we are called to do likewise – to try to reproduce God’s justice in the world: father the fatherless, mother the motherless, welcome the stranger, feed the traveler, be hospitable to the alien. By trying with intelligence and perseverance to love all who touch our lives, we can help to bring God’s steadfast love into the reality of our everyday life. (Celebration, January 2005)

The justice or righteousness used here means living in right relationship with God and with other people. This justice acknowledges the human dignity of all people, especially those who are in need. Love of God is intrinsically tied to love poured out on others. Isaiah tells us of a Suffering Servant whose justice does not proceed with force or cruelty. This servant brings forth justice carefully, caringly, gently, so gently that even bruised reeds will not break, nor will smoldering wicks be quenched. This Servant brings God’s love to the weak and fragile and needy. Jesus is the fulfillment of this idea of servant. As disciples (learners) of Jesus we, too, must become suffering servants; it is our highest dignity. In baptism we become like Jesus – priest, prophet, and king – sent to lead others to this love of Christ, to share the Good News of the love, and to offer our lives in service for others.(Celebration, January 2002, and Mary Birmingham,  Word and Worship Workbook for Year A, 126)

2nd Reading – Acts 10: 34-380

Cornelius was a gentile – a non-Jew – yet Peter, a faithful Jew, became convinced that he too could be baptized and become a follower of Jesus.

This is echoed in a homily given by Pope Francis:  “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class. We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all. And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: We need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: We will meet one another there.”

“For God was with him”  Do we know this?  That God is with us?  That God makes it possible for good to happen in (and through!) our lives if we are open to God’s presence?  Just think what your life would be like if God’s love was able to flow freely in and out of you.  What good would come?

The Gospel — Jesus’ Baptism – Mark 1: 7-11

Why do you think that Jesus was baptized?  **If Jesus shows us what God is like, what do we see in this passage?  There is a special irony in Jesus’ baptism that speaks to the central message of the redemptive mystery. Jesus enters into radical solidarity with all people, taking upon himself even the condition of our sinfulness, himself having not sinned. The “one more powerful” assumes the position of weakness. It is precisely in this that he is beloved, and it is from this that he is sent. But how could he be fully human, like us, if he did not sin? We misunderstand this, because we misunderstand our humanity as well as our sin. Jesus reveals to us not only what God is like; he also reveals to us who we are. Our sin in essence is the rejection of the truth of our humanity. Jesus’ utter acceptance of his humanity reverses our sinful rejection of our ‘creatureliness’. His baptism is at the heart of his mission to heal us. He enters into even the wounds of our self-rejection and insecurity, without making the rejection and insecurity his own. He stands with us even if that means that he is seen as a sinner. Here the Word of God is enfleshed for all to see. The Spirit hovers over him and the Voice declares to him and to all of us who share his flesh: “This is my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus IS God’s ancient covenant of love. In him, both halves meet: the divine and the human. (J. Kavaanaugh, S.J. “The Word Engaged”; J. Foley, S.J. “Spirituality of the Rding.” )

In first-century Israel there were two seasons: rainy (late September to late April) and dry (early May to early September). Most stayed inside during the wet season, so during the dry season people wanted to be out and about, a very important Mediterranean activity. When John was baptizing, it was probably the beginning of the dry period. The Jordan River would be still filled with water and it would now be warmed by the sun. Jesus’ baptism by John is one of the most certain historical events recorded in the gospels. Its significance caused the early Christians first some embarrassment and gradually great insight. Another point: in Marks’ brief account it is a ‘mouth-full’ to say that Jesus leaves his family and village to come to John for baptism. One’s family was the central social institution of his day; this step away from his family would have been seen by his culture as very risky, even shameful. When the voice from heaven claims him as a beloved son, a whole new type of family is set up. Mark expects us who are hearing this gospel to recognize that the source of Jesus’ honor is God not his family or culture. God personally acknowledges Jesus as a beloved, obedient son and servant.   (John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context,” )

Jesus’ encounter with his calling and identity at his baptism is the starting point for all that he will undertake. It is because Jesus knows who he is that he does as he does. He trusts the truth that he is God’s beloved; he refuses, even in the face of suffering and death, to believe the lie that God is distant, uncaring, or condemning. At baptism, we are also called sons and daughters of God. In fact, our baptism is our acceptance of that truth. Like Jesus, we need to let that truth fill our lives and overflow into all we do and are.  We are never just consumers or spectators or travelers or workers – all of us are God’s beloved. (“Working with the Word” )

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