January 10, 2020

Christ the Cornerstone

Jesus is anointed with the Holy Spirit and empowered by God’s love

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“After the Lord was baptized, the heavens were opened, and the Spirit descended upon him like a dove, and the voice of the Father thundered: This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (cf. Mt 3:16–17).

If you listen carefully during this Sunday’s celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, you’ll hear a subtle—but very powerful—interpretation of what happened when Jesus was baptized by John in the River Jordan. What the Gospel reading says is: “And a voice came from the heavens, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’ ” (Mt 3:17).

But this Sunday’s entrance antiphon and the Alleluia verse before the Gospel both say that the voice of the Father thundered: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”(Mt 3:17). In a booming voice, we are told, as the Holy Spirit descended like a dove, the Father proclaimed his immense pride in Jesus, his only Son.

This remarkable scene, the baptism of the Lord, is a manifestation of the Holy Trinity at work in our world. God appears as the thunderous voice of the Father, as the humble, beloved Son who did not need to be baptized but who freely chose to do so as a sign of his oneness with us, and as the gentle (but powerful) Spirit who hovered over Jesus in the form of a dove to support and encourage him. What a graced moment! Truly God is with us here in the fullness of his divinity and in his closeness to us, his people.

In the second reading for this Sunday (Acts 10:34-38), St. Peter tells us that God’s love is intended for everyone. “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35). We dare not impose limits on God’s mercy or act as if we can predict who will be rewarded on the last day. Salvation is not limited to a few elite believers. It is open to all provided that they fear God and act justly.

Jesus was baptized with water by John the Baptist, but St. Peter tells us that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power” (Acts 10:38). Jesus received his power to heal the sick, comfort the afflicted, forgive sins and redeem us from the finality of death, not from any human power but from his Father and the Holy Spirit. The mystery of the triune God is revealed in the sacramental sign of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan. Following this graced moment, St. Peter says, Jesus “went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38).

As we learn in Sunday’s first reading, all this was to fulfill what the prophet Isaiah foretold long before this dramatic scene in the Jordan River:

“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” (Is 42:1-4).

The Father’s voice may have been thunderous, but the Son will not cry out, shout or make his voice heard in the street. He will quietly do whatever is necessary to serve as “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” (Is 42:6-7). Anointed by the Holy Spirit and empowered by the Father’s love and blessing, Jesus begins his ministry among us as a man of peace determined to establish justice for all nations and people everywhere.

As we begin a new calendar year and next week begin again what the Church calls “ordinary time,” it’s good to be reminded of Jesus’ mission. His baptism by John was an inaugural event, the beginning of his public ministry, but it wasn’t something he did all by himself. God was with him (in him) in the fullness of the Holy Trinity. Because of this unique manifestation of Jesus’ divinity and his closeness to us (his humanity), we can be confident that by following him patiently we will one day share in his justice and peace.

Let’s pray for the grace to listen attentively to God’s “thunderous voice” this weekend and ask the Holy Spirit to help us follow Jesus as he leads us on the way of life. †

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