January 11, 2013

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe feast of the Baptism of the Lord is very important to the Church’s process of bringing us to Christ. It reveals both the identity of the Lord, and begins the Gospel 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. It is not recorded in John, although John’s Gospel alludes to John the Baptist’s baptisms in the Jordan and, in John’s Gospel, John the Baptist gives Jesus the title, “Lamb of God.”

The first reading is one of the four Suffering Servant Songs of Isaiah. These very poetic passages are prominent in the liturgies of Lent, and indeed of Good Friday.

There is an ominous overtone. Who was this Suffering Servant? Was it the future Messiah? Was it one of the prophets? Was it the author? Was it a collective reference to the people of Israel? No one knows with certainty.

Regardless, the Christian liturgies over the centuries have seen Jesus in the Suffering Servant Songs. Certainly this is the message for this feast. In this passage, God reveals that a faithful and pure servant will come.

This loyal servant will endure an outrageous fortune. 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 speaks on behalf of all the Apostles. He speaks to Cornelius, a Roman officer, a foreigner and pagan. Peter proclaims Jesus, declaring that the saving ministry of Jesus began with the Lord’s baptism.

Peter’s own identity is revealed. He is chief among the Apostles. His message is the continuation of the Lord’s message.

St. Luke’s Gospel provides the last reading. Luke’s report of the baptism, as Mark’s, highlights the Lord’s divine identity and mission of salvation. In Luke, as in Mark, God announces that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is serving the plan of God.

Certain images are important, with distant echoes of creation, salvation and redemption. Life comes from the water. Noah survived the flood. Jesus emerges from the water to begin the mission of redemption. Looking ahead, it prefigures Christian baptism.

Another image is that of the sky. God speaks from the sky, an ancient image of divinity in the Old Testament.

Reflection

In Advent, the Church in its liturgies called us to renew ourselves in holiness and grace.

If we responded, then Christmas was much more than a commemoration of the Lord’s birth.

It was a personal event in which Christ was admitted into faithful hearts and souls, to restore, to heal, and to eliminate dying. With unbounded joy, the Church announced that the Lord has come!

Last week, in its great revelation of the Epiphany, the Church told us more about Jesus. The son of Mary and therefore human, the Lord also is God. The Magi recognized this fact.

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. It was, and is, God’s will that we be one with God. We achieve this union with God in and through Jesus. We must bond, completely, with Christ. He is God. God is love. God forgives us and restores us to eternal life.

The Lord now comes to us through Peter and the Apostles, the Lord’s students, commissioned by Jesus to further God’s plan of salvation. †

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