Jan 10, 2021: Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (B)

Introduction

This christological feast celebrates Jesus as the anointed servant of God. The celebration expands the universality of God’s presence that was proclaimed at Epiphany and locates it in the messianic mission of Jesus established at his baptism.

Liturgically, it serves as a bridge. It brings to a close the liturgical Christmas season, which reveals who God is for us and who we are to be for others in Christ, and begins the period in the liturgical calendar called Ordinary Time. In fact, this feast might be seen as the summary of the entire liturgical cycle: the one who is born among us is the servant of God who brings to all the nations a universal promise of justice and the fulfillment of hope.

Originally the baptism of Christ was celebrated on Epiphany, and still is in the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches. In the West, however, the celebration of the baptism of the Lord came to be commemorated as a distinct feast from Epiphany; in 1955, Pope Pius XII instituted a separate liturgical commemoration of the Baptism.

1st Reading – Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7

Thus says the LORD:
Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
upon whom I have put my spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations,
not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
A bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching.

I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations,
to open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.

Our first reading is the first of four passages traditionally known as the Servant Songs of Isaiah (49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12). They constitute a unique set of poems that identify a mysterious figure: the ideal Servant of God, the perfect Israelite, whose consecration to the divine will, even in the midst of terrible suffering, shall take away the sins of many (Isaiah 53:2).

This passage was written during the Babylonian exile to give the people hope in the midst of their suffering.

Thus says the LORD: Here is my servant whom I uphold,

Very few people were called “my servant” by God: Abraham (Genesis 26:24), Moses (Numbers 12:7), Caleb (Num 14:24), Job (Job 1:8), and, most frequently, David (2 Samuel 3:18). The servant referred to here is generally understood to be the nation of Israel.

There is special comfort for Israel in God referring to them as my servant; the exile was a terrible and troublesome time for the Israelites, causing them to question their whole understanding of their covenant relationship with God. God had promised that David’s kingdom would be secure forever, but now David’s kingdom was in ruins. Had the Israelites misunderstood their relationship with God? Were they, in fact, God’s chosen people?

my chosen one with whom I am pleased,

Isaiah responds to these questions with a resounding “yes.” Israel is God’s servant whom God upholds. The exiles’ suffering is not a sign that God has deserted them; rather, God has a purpose in their suffering.

This phrase is echoed at Jesus’ baptism, which we hear in today’s Gospel reading, and at the transfiguration (Matthew 17:5). The Servant Songs speak of a servant who suffers greatly. As such, they were not originally understood to be in reference to the hoped-for Messiah, because the Messiah was not expected to suffer. However, after Jesus suffered, died, and rose from the dead, the Servant Songs were used to probe the mystery of a suffering messiah.

upon whom I have put my spirit;

Being endowed with God’s own spirit was even more significant than being called “my servant.” Israelite leaders who received God’s spirit, such as judges (Judges 6:34; 11:29,32; 14:19), kings (1 Samuel 16:13), and prophets (Micah 3:8; Ezekiel 11:5), were empowered by God to take action.

Receiving God’s spirit is necessary for any redemptive work.

he shall bring forth justice to the nations,

The servant’s mission is to deliver justice, a commission normally reserved for kings, priests, and local magistrates.

Note that justice will be delivered not only to Israel itself, but to all nations. God created the whole world and desires to save all of it.

not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street. A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench, until he establishes justice on the earth;

The modesty and quiet manner of the servant is quite extraordinary. His administration of justice is not harsh and exacting, and does not make a public pronouncement of God’s judgment. He will not compound the distress of an already suffering people but will be a source of consolation.

the coastlands

The lands of the Mediterranean. In the Old Testament, “the coastlands” often refers to the pagan lands of the west. This chosen one will serve not only Israel, but all peoples.

will wait for his teaching.

The servant now has another quality: he is a teacher. Teaching was a task never done by kings, but only by prophets (Isaiah 8:16; Zechariah 7:12) and priests (Jeremiah 2:8; Ezekiel 7:26).

I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people,

God, now speaking directly to the servant, is emphasizing the deliberateness of his choice: I called you, I grasped you, I formed you, I set you.

The mission of the servant is clearly determined by God, not by the servant himself.

a light for the nations,

The universalism of the message is underscored. Through their suffering and subsequent salvation, the Israelites will bring other nations to a knowledge of God.

to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.

Specific instances of human suffering are listed, but they are likely intended to represent any form of darkness and confinement. The entire world will be rescued from every type of suffering.

Alternate 1st Reading – Isaiah 55:1-11

Thus says the LORD:
All you who are thirsty,
come to the water!
You who have no money,
come, receive grain and eat;
come, without paying and without cost,
drink wine and milk!
Why spend your money for what is not bread,
your wages for what fails to satisfy?
Heed me, and you shall eat well,
you shall delight in rich fare.
Come to me heedfully,
listen, that you may have life.
I will renew with you the everlasting covenant,
the benefits assured to David.
As I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander of nations,
so shall you summon a nation you knew not,
and nations that knew you not shall run to you,
because of the LORD, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, who has glorified you.

Seek the LORD while he may be found,
call him while he is near.
Let the scoundrel forsake his way,
and the wicked man his thoughts;
let him turn to the LORD for mercy;
to our God, who is generous in forgiving.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
As high as the heavens are above the earth
so high are my ways above your ways
and my thoughts above your thoughts.

For just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
and do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
so shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
my word shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.

Today’s first reading comes from what has been called the Book of Consolation (Chapters 40-55) in Isaiah. This powerful prophetic oracle contains some of the most moving sentiments expressed by God to his people.

Thus says the LORD: All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!

God is cast in the role of a vendor who offers food and drink at no cost.

The generosity of God is seen in the offer of water, grain, wine, and milk. While water is essential to all, it is particularly important in the climate of Mediterranean Palestine. Grain, wine, and milk are staples of the Near Eastern diet and imply abundant harvests and healthy flocks.

Note that the invitation is extended to “all you who are thirsty”; not only those who had been faithful throughout their exile in Babylon, or those who had found a way to make a living while in exile, but the poor. The only condition is a thirst for God.

Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?

Though water, grain, wine, milk, and bread are all good things to eat, Isaiah speaks of satisfying the deepest longings of the human heart: longings for loving relationships.

What God has to offer is satisfying and enduring, especially when compared to all else for which people seem to spend their money.

Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare. 

God knows that the people are suffering. However, they are thirsty for more than water. They are hungry for more than food. They are hungry for a right relationship with their God.

Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.

Isaiah assures the people that God has not rejected them. Rather, God is calling them to fidelity: “heed me,” “come to me,” “listen.”

The word used for listen is shema. This is the same verb that introduces Israel’s most important prayer, which is known by the same word: Shema!, or Hear, O Israel! The word suggests not only hearing but also heeding the words that are heard.

The implication is that the word of God is itself a source of nourishment and rejuvenation. It is, in fact, the source of life itself.

I will renew with you the everlasting covenant, the benefits assured to David.

The real point of God’s invitation is this announcement. He is re-establishing their covenant bond, hearkening back to his royal covenant with David (see 2 Samuel 7:12-16).

God’s covenant with David was a unilateral one, a free gift from God with no requirements placed on the human partner. However, that covenantal privilege did not exempt the kings from observing the Law, which was previously established with the Mosaic covenant.

Though this Davidic covenant was instituted as everlasting, the people broke the bond by their sins. God is now eager to restore this severed bond.

As I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander of nations, so shall you summon a nation you knew not, and nations that knew you not shall run to you, because of the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, who has glorified you.

Just as David’s success proclaimed God’s majesty to the nations, so the people called here will be a witness to God’s mercy and love.

And just as David was the source of blessing, peace, and fullness of life for his own nation, the people called here will be a comparable source of blessing for nations they do not even know.

Seek the LORD while he may be found, call him while he is near.

The prophet begins a call to conversion. Israel must turn to God with urgent prayer. Man must seek God, and yet God’s ways are far beyond comprehension.

This passage combines the mysterious opposites of divine grace: God is transcendent, yet near enough to help; man is helpless, yet required to act energetically; the ways of God are exalted yet required of man (see also Hosea 14:10; Job 42:1-6; Sirach 43:28-35; Acts 13:10).

Let the scoundrel forsake his way, and the wicked man his thoughts;

Isaiah describes a pattern of sin, not merely isolated offenses. The people have embarked on a “way” (derek) of life that has taken them away from the God with whom they have entered into covenant. This is nothing short of total betrayal.

The word employed here for sinfulness usually refers to external behavior, but here it is coupled with the word for “thoughts” or “plans” (mahăshābâ). The sinners have not only chosen a course of action opposed to the Laws of God, but they have devised plans contrary to God’s plans.

Let him turn to the LORD for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving.

The word for “turn” (shûb), in all its forms, is the twelfth most frequently used verb in the Old Testament. It means to turn away from evil and toward good, implying that those who have sinned were once in relationship with God but have turned away.

The exhortations to turn back are not merely suggestions; the verb-forms indicate they are imperatives. The people are being summoned to worship and repentance.

In the face of this, the prophet assures them God will still be compassionate (rāham) toward them. He can promise this because he firmly believes that God does not merely forgive once. Rather, God is gracious in forgiving, pardoning sinners again and again.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.

The generosity and mercy of God are almost beyond our comprehension. God calls humanity to seek him and allows himself to be found. Not only that, he is willing and able to abundantly pardon, for he does not judge in the way men do.

Accordingly, the difference between the thoughts and plans of God and those of man are compared with the vast expanse between the heavens and the earth. Of course, the comparison is ludicrous, for there is no comparison. The difference between the disposition of sinful humanity and the disposition of God is incalculable.

For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to him who sows and bread to him who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.

Isaiah provides a glimpse of what ecologists today call the hydrologic cycle: continuous movement of water between the earth and the atmosphere. This knowledge comes from observing nature itself, the primary source of wisdom. Rain and snow originate in the heavens; they water the earth, making it fertile and then they return to the heavens, having accomplished their purpose. This would have been a particularly powerful metaphor for those living in the arid climate of the Middle East.

The ordered nature of God’s creation is reliable, an order we can trust. Contrary to our human arrogance, we are totally dependent on the fertility of the natural world and the laws that govern it.

Speaking through the prophet, God declares: So it is with my word! A cause-and-effect relationship exists between the word of God and the outcome it accomplishes; the word of God is consistent and reliable, and humans are totally dependent on it. We are assured that we can be as confident of this as we can be of the working of the natural world. Just as nature produces miracles upon which we can rely and because of which we can survive, so the word of God will effect miracles upon which we can rely and because of which we can live.

2nd Reading – Acts 10:34-38

Peter proceeded to speak to those gathered
in the house of Cornelius, saying:
“In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.
Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly
is acceptable to him.
You know the word that he sent to the Israelites
as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all,
what has happened all over Judea,
beginning in Galilee after the baptism
that John preached,
how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth
with the Holy Spirit and power.
He went about doing good
and healing all those oppressed by the devil,
for God was with him.”

Today’s second reading takes place at the home of Cornelius, a newly converted Roman centurion. Cornelius was a convert of the type who, attracted by Judaism’s monotheistic beliefs and strict code of ethics, attended synagogue services and observed the Ten Commandments but did not become full members of the Jewish community by circumcision and observance of the dietary restrictions.

Earlier in this chapter of Acts, Cornelius was visited by an angel while he was at prayer and directed to summon Peter from Joppa. When Peter arrived and heard of the vision of Cornelius, he instructed him in the story of the life, death, and messiahship of Jesus. At the end of the instruction, the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius and his entire household; they received the gift of tongues.

Peter found this sufficient justification to baptize them, despite the fact that they were Gentiles. Hence, they became the first Gentile converts.

Today we hear some of Peter’s instruction to them prior to the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Peter proceeded to speak to those gathered in the house of Cornelius,

Normally, an observant Jew like Peter would never enter the home of a Gentile. Something new is happening.

saying: “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.

The first words of his discourse are structured in a way that reflects the newness of this insight: Peter was not always open to association with Gentiles. Just before the summons from Cornelius, he received a vision that instructed him not to call any person profane or unclean (10:28). Although Peter knew Jesus intimately, he is just starting to fully grasp the radical nature of the gospel.

Contrary to what many Jews thought, Israel’s unique status as God’s chosen people does not mean he withholds divine favor from others.

Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.

What is translated as “acts uprightly” is literally “practices righteousness.” All are acceptable to God, Jew and Gentile alike.

You know the word that he sent to the Israelites

Either Peter presumed that since Cornelius and his family lived in Judea, they had heard something about the life and ministry of Jesus, or these words are more directed to Luke’s Christian readers than the household of Cornelius.

as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all,

The proclamation (“Jesus is Lord of all”) that was first made to the Jews will be made to the Gentiles. Inclusivity is the centerpiece of this reading.

what has happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached,

The ministry of John the Baptist captured a lot of attention as it unfolded. His was a name that Cornelius, a Roman centurion stationed in this small country, would have easily recognized.

how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power.

The mention of anointing is an allusion to Isaiah 61:1, which Jesus quoted in reference to himself in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:18).

He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

Peter makes a point of mentioning those oppressed by the devil, probably because those possessed by demons were considered to be the most unclean of the unclean. Despite this, Jesus did not relegate them to the margins of society as others did; he touched them and healed them.

By visiting Cornelius in his house, Peter was also placing himself in contact with a group of people considered by many to be unclean: Gentiles. Like Jesus, he disregarded any judgment and refused to conform.

Jesus’ anointing “with the Holy Spirit and power” preceded his ministry, a ministry in which he went about doing much good. The baptism that Jesus gives us, a baptism of the Holy Spirit, enables us to go about doing good just as Jesus did, in his name.

Alternative 2nd Reading – 1 John 5:1-9

Beloved:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God,
and everyone who loves the Father
loves also the one begotten by him.
In this way we know that we love the children of God
when we love God and obey his commandments.
For the love of God is this,
that we keep his commandments.
And his commandments are not burdensome,
for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.
And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.
Who indeed is the victor over the world
but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ,
not by water alone, but by water and blood.
The Spirit is the one who testifies,
and the Spirit is truth.
So there are three that testify,
the Spirit, the water, and the blood,
and the three are of one accord.
If we accept human testimony,
the testimony of God is surely greater.
Now the testimony of God is this,
that he has testified on behalf of his Son.

Today’s second reading is a testimony to trinitarian faith. It describes God as the one who begets (the Father); it identifies Jesus as the Son of God; it credits the Spirit as the one who testifies to the triumph of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Beloved: Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ

This is a simply stated, yet foundational, christological declaration: Jesus is the Christ. The word Christ, which means “anointed one,” has a long history in Jewish thought. In ancient Israel, kings and priests were anointed (2 Samuel 2:4, Exodus 30:30); gradually these customs developed into messianic ideas (Isaiah 9:5-6, 61:1).

is begotten by God, and everyone who loves the father loves also the one begotten by him. In this way we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments.

A second theological theme: faith in Jesus makes believers children of God.

A form of the verb “to beget” is used three times: those who believe are “begotten by God”; God the Father is the one who begets; those “begotten by God” are to be the object of the love of others.

Notice how faith and love (agápē) are intimately linked. While it is faith in Christ that brings one into the family of God, once incorporated, one is expected to love God and all those others who have also been begotten by God through faith in Jesus.

In other words, if we love the one who begets, then we must also love the begotten.

For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.

The reading moves from faith and love to obedience. It may be that the author wanted to insist that faith and love are not merely interior dispositions but must be manifested in some external way.

The commandments to be observed are not identified but only called out as not burdensome.

And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.

Faith also reveals itself in its victory over the world (kósmos).

Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Note that the messiahship of Jesus is now coupled with his divine sonship. Faith in Jesus as both Messiah and Son of God triumphs over evil.

This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ, not by water alone, but by water and blood.

Jesus inaugurated the reign of God and ushered in the new age of fulfillment. He accomplished this not merely at the time of his baptism (through water), when he received his messianic commission, but at the time of his death and resurrection (through blood), when he conquered death.

The Spirit is the one that testifies, and the Spirit is truth.

The Holy Spirit was present at Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:10; John 1:32-34) and continues to witness to the work achieved through Christ by his presence in the Church.

So there are three that testify, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and the three are of one accord.

Just as the Spirit testifies (martyreo) to the meaning of the water and the blood, so the water and the blood (the baptism and death of Jesus) testify to the truth of Jesus’ exalted state as Messiah and Son of God.

There are now three witnesses, whose unified testimony satisfies the legal requirements of Deuteronomy 17:6.

If we accept human testimony, the testimony of God is surely greater. Now the testimony of God is this, that he has testified on behalf of his Son.

The author ends by insisting that if human testimony is accepted in accordance with human custom (Deuteronomy 19:15), how much more should the testimony of God be accepted?

Gospel – Mark 1:7-11

This is what John the Baptist proclaimed:
“One mightier than I is coming after me.
I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
I have baptized you with water;
he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee
and was baptized in the Jordan by John.
On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open
and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.
And a voice came from the heavens,
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Today’s gospel reading is comprised of two parts: a summary of the central message of John’s preaching, and a description of the baptism of Jesus by John.

This is what John the Baptist proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me.

John the Baptist prepared the people for the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus Christ. He did this by contrasting himself with Jesus, beginning with the statement that Jesus is more powerful than he.

I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.

Loosening the thongs of another’s sandals is the menial work of a household slave. John does not hesitate to emphasize his own inferiority in comparison with Jesus. He is not demeaning himself; rather, he is glorifying Jesus.

I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

John next contrasts the baptism he performs with the one Christ will perform.

Many ancient religions practiced ritual cleansing, an action with symbolic value because of the cleansing properties of water. Jesus’ baptism, however, will be in the Holy Spirit. This could echoes the eschatological time of fulfillment that Ezekial had foretold, when God promised to “sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities” and to “give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you” (Ezekiel 36:25-26).

“John was setting forth the anticipatory and ancillary value of his own baptism, showing that it had no other purpose than to lead to repentance. He did not say he baptized with water of forgiveness, but of repentance. He pointed toward Christ’s baptism, full of inexpressible gifts. John seems to be saying ‘… I am not worthy to be ranked to much as among Christ’s servants, no, not even the lowest of his servants, nor to receive the least honored portion of his ministry.’ Therefore John did not simply say, ‘his sandals,’ he said ‘the thong of his sandals,’ the part counted the least of all.” [Saint John Chrysostom (370 AD), Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew 11,5]

It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee

The passage now shifts to the account of Jesus’ baptism.

The journey from Galilee consisted of traveling for several hours through rugged terrain and desert heat. It is the lowest point on the face of the earth, about twelve hundred feet below sea level. From a modern perspective, we might say that the Jordan River basin lies in the middle of nowhere.

and was baptized in the Jordan by John. 

Jesus had no need of baptism since he had no sin, but he chose to be baptized to demonstrate his solidarity with Israel and all humanity. He is also modeling humility and obedience. (Recall that Jesus had already been subjected to circumcision, presentation in the temple, and being redeemed as the firstborn.)

By entering the same waters that the repentant are entering, he shows us that he has come to unite himself to sinners so that they may be restored in him to the Father. In this action at the beginning of his messianic mission, Jesus foreshadows how he will bear the sins of all the world on the cross at the culmination of his public ministry.

“He allows himself to be numbered among sinners; he is already ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.’ Already he is anticipating the ‘baptism’ of his bloody death.” [Catechism of the Catholic Church, 536]

On coming up out of the water

This does not necessarily mean that Jesus was fully immersed. We can “come up out of the water” when we go wading at the beach and walk back up on the shore.

he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. 

“The Spirit of God descending like a dove” recalls how God’s Spirit hovered over the waters at the start of creation (Genesis 1:2). It also brings to mind how Noah sent out a dove that hovered over the waters of the renewed creation after the Flood (Genesis 8:10-12). Now that same Spirit falls on Jesus in the waters of the Jordan and thus signals another new beginning for the world: The broken, divided human family is about to be recreated in the one family of God through Christ’s Holy Spirit.

And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

As if to affirm Jesus’ identity and his mission, a voice from heaven speaks.

While the voice exalts Christ as the beloved Son of the Father, it also foreshadows the painful road the Son must travel. God foretold through Isaiah that he would send a faithful servant to fulfill his plan of salvation. God would rejoice in this servant, saying: “Behold, my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him” (Isaiah 42:1, our first reading). This servant of the Lord would reunite all of Israel (Isaiah 49:5) and be a light to all the nations (Isaiah 42:6, 49:6). Yet this servant would accomplish God’s redemptive plan through much suffering for our sins (Isaiah 53).

These words from heaven at Christ’s baptism echo Isaiah’s prophecy about the servant of the Lord, thus presenting Jesus as God’s faithful servant. It subtly foreshadows how he will endure great affliction for our sins as the suffering servant from Isaiah.

Note that Jesus’ baptism also reveals the mystery of the Holy Trinity: the Son is baptized; the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove; the voice of the Father gives testimony. Accordingly, Christians are baptized in the name of the three divine persons (Matthew 28:19).

Connections and Themes

The Servant of God is the light and hope of the nations.  The Servant of God is the one who is anointed with the Spirit and given a mission by God. The mission is a universal charge to proclaim and establish justice for all nations. The servant is both the light that guides those in darkness and the source of clarity for judgment and understanding. He is also the one through whom God’s saving action is accomplished. This servant is given to the nations as the promise of liberation and as the hope of the age to come. Jesus is this servant, and his mission is directed to all peoples. In God’s work, there is room for everyone. There is no partiality when it comes to the offer of light and the work of justice.

The cosmic response to the work of the servant.  The servant’s work among the nations is so influential that it evokes the response of all creation. In the face of such a universal gift, the heavens and earth erupt in praise and wonder of the mystery revealed by God’s servant. God’s voice is creative; it speaks over creation and over the head of Jesus as he emerges from the waters of the Jordan. The work of God includes the regeneration of nature; the work of Jesus beings in the waters that rejoice at his presence.

Jesus is the universal servant, baptized by John.  Anointed by the Spirit, Jesus is commissioned to begin his prophetic work and ministry, a work of inclusivity and the relinquishment of bondage and fear. As the heavens open Jesus is identified as the beloved one of God. By God’s good favor the community of believers is identified with Jesus the servant of God. Through baptism, Christians share in the prophetic and divine ministry of Christ. They too receive an imperative with baptism, an imperative of committed service to the poor and to the cause of compassion. The feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a reminder of the call to Christian service.

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