Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Baptism of the Lord, 2014

With this Sunday’s celebration of the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the Church brings the Christmas Season to a close and transitions to a period of Ordinary Time.  Baptism marks a new beginning…  a rebirth.  For Jesus, this marks the beginning of his ministry, and serves as an excellent transition from the infancy narratives to the story of his life and ministry.  So this week we begin a new journey…

The Word for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
Psalm 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10
Acts 10:34-38
Matthew 3:13-17

Our first reading, from the Isaiah, tells us about “the servant of the Lord”… in this case, the prophet chosen by God to save Israel.  This prophecy comes from the section of Isaiah that predicts the coming glory for Israel.  That not only will he raise it up in gleaming splendor, but through is servant, make it a beacon, a shining example to all the other nations.  No small task given that Israel, at this time, is still living in exile in Babylon.  What we have in this passage is an example of how this new servant will be… not a voice crying out in the wilderness like John the Baptist, but one who does “not cry out, nor shout”… one who cares for those in need by telling us he will not break the bruised reed or quench the dimming candle.  Through his kindness that justice will be established.

Our second reading, in honor of the feast, comes not from the Hebrew Scriptures, but from the Acts of the Apostles.  In it we hear a brief story of Jesus and the good he did in God’s name.  What makes this story amazing is not what Peter is talking about, but where and to whom.  Peter is telling this story in the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion from Italy… that is, someone who is not native to the region.  Further, this house is in the city of Caesarea, a city built by Herod the Great in honor of Caesar Augustus, located on the coast some 60 miles northwest of Jerusalem.  Not only has Peter found a convert in a foreigner, but in was Cornelius who sought out Peter based on a vision he had of an angel of the Lord.  It is a story that not only speaks powerfully to the prophecy from Isaiah, but is a suitable bridge to our Gospel.

Our gospel, not surprisingly, is from Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism.  Matthew’s version, however, has an interesting twist, where John initially refuses to baptize Jesus, saying instead that it is he who should be baptized by Jesus.  This is a formality that Jews of the day would understand, but gets a little lost on a Gentile audience, but Jesus manages to convince John to do it.  Jesus knows that for scripture to be fulfilled, he needs to be recognized by John.  Not only does John know Jesus, but upon being baptized God himself recognizes his servant with a voice from the heavens for all to hear.  It is a fitting start to our new journey with Jesus through Ordinary Time. 

Catholic Update:
Sacraments of Initiation:  Sacraments of Invitation
Sacraments of Initiation:  God’s “I Love You”
Baptism:  Our Lifelong Call
Confirmation:  A Deepening of Our Christian Identity
Eucharist:  Understanding Christ’s Body

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