13th January, 2013. 1st Sunday of Year C. The Baptism of the Lord
Is 40:1-5, 9-11. “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord.” Isaiah’s call is still valid for us today.
Tit 2:11-14, 3:4-7. We can be purified “through the water of rebirth and renewal.”
Lk 3:15-16, 21-22. The Baptist points to Jesus. Then the voice from heaven says, “my Son, the Beloved.”
Theme: Jesus brings justice to the nations. As his baptised followers, we seek the kingdom of God through justice and peace.
First Reading: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.
Second Reading: Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Gospel: Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
A Very Significant Feast
After the series of liturgical feasts during the Advent and Christmas periods, we might tend to under-value today’s feast of the “Baptism of the Lord”. But this would be a mistake. The faith of our fellow Christians of the Eastern churches sees great importance in today’s feast. Their stress on mysticism and spirituality is often richer than our Catholic focus on dogma and discipline. In the East the life of Christ is regarded as a series of epiphanies or revelations, that is God’s grace being revealed to the world through episodes in the life of Christ. The first of these adult epiphanies, the Baptism of Christ, we commemorate today.
In the eyes of the apostles, what was the first significant moment in their shared experience, in their following of Jesus? When they were selecting a successor to Judas Iscariot, to bring back their group again to twelve, they decided “It must be someone who was with all the time since his baptism by John. To them his baptism was vitally important, as the beginning of a new era, when God would pour out the Holy Spirit into our world. It was the sacred moment when, as St Peter says, “God anointed Christ with the Holy Spirit and with power.”
At Christmas we recalled the Incarnation and physical birth of Jesus, in Bethlehem; today celebrates another kind of birthday for Christ, his spiritual birth in the power of the Holy Spirit. At Epiphany we celebrated the revelation of the child Jesus to the Magi from the East; but today marks the presentation of Christ to the whole world by his Father, who introduces him to us as, “My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
On this day too, in a special way we recall our own baptism that marked us individually with the seal of God,made us chosen members of his people, and set us apart, like Christ himself, for a particular mission in life. And in the degree that we listen to this call we fulfil God’s purpose for us. If God chose us for a special purpose, we should ask ourselves today what we see as the purpose of our lives. What are we looking for, deep down? On the day after Christ’s baptism, Andrew, the brother of Peter, began to follow Jesus, who asked this simple question, “What are you looking for?” But while it seems on the surface a simple question, in reality the most profound question in our lives. Sooner or later God asks each of us this question too, and it is one that whould mark all of our searching, on our pilgrim way through life.
Through our baptism we share in the mission of Christ, to bring life to and share it with others. For most of us this simply entails being faithful in the ordinary things associated with our state of life, the demands it makes of us. When we try and respond to the voice of our conscience pointing the way we should follow, then we can be assured that Christ is in our lives, that we have become the bearers of his message to those who do not know him, and that on us too God’s favour will rest just as it did on Christ himself.
Added Biblical reflections for today, courtesy of the Bat Kol Institute, Jerusalem.
The baptism of Jesus is a scene in the gospels that gives us not only a picture of Jesus but that of the Trinity. We see Jesus submitting himself to the baptism of John like many Jews of his time, we see the Spirit resting on Jesus in material form, and we see the Father as one who is well pleased. This image jumped out of the page for me – the image of the Father, smiling and nodding his head with pleasure. In the 1981 film Chariots of Fire, we hear the main character say “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.” Again, we see the image of a God who is delighted. As we reflect on Jesus’ baptism today, let us put ourselves in the Father’s shoes and experience the very pleasure he feels in Jesus. Like the Father, are you able to say that Jesus is your beloved, and in him your heart is delighted?
In Isaiah 42, we have God describing to us his beloved: a spirit-filled servant (he is my servant, upon whom I have put my spirit); a gentle bringer of peace and justice (he shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting); and a light dispelling the darkness (he will open the eyes of the blind). In the second reading, Peter preaches to the Gentiles and applies the Isaiah text to Jesus saying “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power…he went about doing good and healing…) (Acts 10:38). As we follow Jesus in the gospels, we realize that it is not difficult to identify with the Father’s sentiments. Jesus lived according to God’s desire – “to do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God” (Mic. 6:8). It is not difficult to make the declaration after all – Jesus is my beloved, in Him my heart delights! What is difficult is living out the consequences of such a declaration.
The very sight of Jesus gives his Father pleasure. But is this true only for Jesus? No, Genesis tells us that this is true of all creation. We read that on the 7th day, “God saw everything he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). I imagine God resting on the first Sabbath. He looks at everything he created, he smiles, nods his head with pleasure and concludes, indeed, it is very good. To echo the words of the Father and declare Jesus as my beloved implies that I will allow my heart to be transformed more and more according to God’s heart. It means that I am enjoined to follow the way of Jesus – to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with God. To regard all people and all creation with respect and with delight. God says through the prophet Jeremiah “I act with steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight” (Jer. 9:24).
At the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013, we found ourselves in a world so much in need of steadfast love, of justice, of righteousness. “Delight” was probably not our dominant feeling. Many are suffering from natural calamities. Many are still in the midst of war and are refugees in their own countries. The global financial crisis continues to take its toll even in the richer nations. As we remember the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan we are reminded to join him in his mission, to walk the way he walked, to love the way he loved and hear the Father exclaim, I am well pleased!
For Reflection and Discussion:  What makes you delighted? What brings pleasure to your heart? In this sense, how far or near is your heart to God’s heart?  Think of something concrete that you can do to please God remembering that it is steadfast love, justice and righteousness that delights him. Share it with your havruta and together, make a commitment to implement your plan.
This week’s teaching commentary was prepared by
Sr. Merle Salazar, fdnsc, IFRS Philippines