8 January 2023
Isaiah 42: 1-4,6-7 Acts 10:34-38 Matthew 3:19-16
Theme: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on him’ (Mt 2:13)
Today we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of the Lord – the last major feast of the Christmas season. His baptism by John is a threshold moment in Jesus’ life. He is leaving behind the security of his ‘hidden’ life in Nazareth and entering the public arena for the first time. So, the liturgy invites us to shift our focus from the baby in the manger to the adult Jesus about to embark on his messianic mission in the service of God’s reign.
Jesus’ first public act is to go to the Jordan river to be baptised by his cousin John, an event recorded by Mark and Luke as well as Matthew. Matthew’s account suggests that John is reluctant to baptise Jesus, saying in words with which we can readily identify, ‘It is I who need baptism from you’ (Mt 2:14). But Jesus insists and is baptised. At this moment the true identity of Jesus as God’s Beloved Son is revealed and he is empowered by the Spirit: ‘As soon as Jesus was baptised, he came up from the water, and suddenly the heavens opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on him. And a voice spoke from heaven, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased”’ (Mt 3: 15-16). For Jesus, this event marks the beginning of a journey that will take him from Nazareth to Jerusalem, from the hills of Galilee to the hill of Calvary.
Jesus’ baptism by John, ‘a baptism of repentance’ (Acts 19:4) manifests Jesus’ complete solidarity with sinful humanity. In the words of James Martin SJ, ‘The divine one, is fully immersing himself, literally in this case, in our humanity’. It also confirms Jesus in his messianic mission and indicates the shape that mission will take. He will be the kind of Servant Leader, outlined by Isaiah in our first reading. He will not shout out, ‘or make his voice heard in the streets’ (Is 42: 3), as many political leaders and angry prophets are wont to do. He will be kind and merciful to all who are oppressed and who carry heavy burdens. ‘He will not break the crushed reed, nor quench the wavering flame’ (Is 42:3). But he will be implacable in his pursuit of justice for the poor and exploited: ‘Faithfully he brings true justice; he will neither waver nor be crushed until true justice is established on earth’ (Is 42:4). He will be a compassionate and merciful leader bringing healing and liberation to his people. His mission will be ‘to open the eyes of the blind, to free captives from prison, and those of live in darkness from the dungeon’ (Is 42:7). And he will be a light not just for the people of Israel but for all nations of the world. As St Peter reminded Cornelius and his family in our second reading, ‘Jesus Christ is Lord of all people’ (Acts 10:35).
Recalling the baptism of Jesus and what it meant for him reminds us of our baptism and what it means for us. It reminds us of who we are and to whom we belong. By baptism we become children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus, members of the Church, and sharers in the threefold office of Jesus: the priestly, prophetic and kingly offices. Hence, by baptism, all who are baptised, not just priests and religious, are called to continue the mission of Jesus of establishing true justice on earth; to become co-creators with God in building his Kingdom of compassion, justice and love; to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. The importance of baptism is highlighted by the renowned biblical scholar, Raymond Brown, when he states that ‘the day when a person is baptised is more important than the day when a person is ordained priest and bishop’.
Today, then, is an appropriate occasion for us to remember the graces we have received in Baptism and renew our Baptismal promises. On the day of our baptism, we were anointed with the oil of Chrism to show that we were consecrated in the image of Jesus, the Father’s Anointed One. The candle, lighted from the Paschal Candle, was a symbol of the light of Faith which our parents and godparents passed on to us. This is, then, a day for us to renew our baptismal promises and to consecrate ourselves anew to the Lord, ‘rejecting Satan and all his empty promises’. Let us ask our Lord to help us to be true disciples of Jesus, faithful to our baptismal commitment. Let us thank him for the privilege of being joined to Jesus’ mission in witnessing to the Gospel by our lives of love, mercy, service and forgiveness.
Fr Michael McCabe, SMA