Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
The feast of the Baptism of the Lord is very important to the Church’s mission of bringing us to Christ. It reveals both the identity of the Lord and begins the Gospel’s revelation of the Lord’s work of salvation.
Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. The three synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, report this event. St. Luke’s account is read on this feast this year.
John’s Gospel alludes to John the Baptist’s baptisms in the Jordan, and in this Gospel, John the Baptist uses for Jesus the title, “Lamb of God.”
The first reading is one of the four suffering servant songs of Isaiah. Who was this suffering servant? The future Messiah? One of the prophets? The author? Was it a collective reference to the people of Israel? No one knows for certain, but Christian liturgies over the centuries have seen Jesus in the suffering servant songs. So, these quite poetic passages are prominent in the liturgies of Lent and indeed of Good Friday.
Certainly, reference to Christ is the message for this feast. In this Scripture, God reveals that a faithful and pure servant will come. He will endure outrage. Many will turn against Him, yet He will be steadfast.
Supplying the second reading is the Acts of the Apostles. After Easter almost every liturgy contains a reading from the Acts of the Apostles, but this source rarely furnishes readings at Mass in any other time. So, the appearance of Acts on this weekend is unusual.
The reading is important. Peter’s own identity is revealed. Peter spoke for all the Apostles. He was chief among the Apostles. He reached out to gentiles by teaching Cornelius, a Roman officer, a foreigner and pagan. Peter proclaimed Jesus, declaring that the saving ministry of Jesus began with the Lord’s baptism. Peter’s message clearly was the continuation of the Lord’s message.
St. Luke’s Gospel provides the last reading. Luke’s revelation of the baptism highlights the Lord’s divine identity and mission of salvation. In Luke, God announces that Jesus is the Son of God, sent by God to redeem humankind. Jesus fulfilled the plan of God.
Certain images are important. In a distant echo of Creation, the reading shows that life comes from the water. Jesus emerged from the water to begin the mission of redemption. The faithful must repent. It prefigures Christian baptism.
Another crucial image is that of the sky. God spoke from the sky, a sign of divinity in the Old Testament.
In Advent, the Church called us to renewed holiness and grace. The Church joyfully led us to Christmas, the anniversary of the Lord’s birth. If we responded in Advent, Christmas was much more than a commemoration. It was a personal event in which faithful hearts and souls truly received Christ and were vivified, healed and freed from the burden of sin and the inevitability of death.
In the great revelation of the Epiphany, celebrated last week, the Church continued to tell us about Jesus, son of Mary and therefore human, but also the Son of God, as the Magi realized.
Now, on this feast, the Church instructs us further about Jesus. He is the instrument of God’s love for us. Doomed by our sins, we find another chance in Jesus. He is our Savior, reconciling us with God. He identifies with us. Union with Jesus is critical if we wish to be saved.
He is God. God forgives us and restores us to eternal life if we accept the Lord.
Practically speaking, Jesus comes to us through Peter and the Apostles, the Lord’s special students, sent to bring salvation to all the world. They still are present in and through the Church.
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