January 9, 2015

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThis weekend, the Church invites us to celebrate the great Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. It commemorates an important event in the life of Jesus and in the unfolding of salvation and also draws our attention to marvelous and fundamental aspects of our redemption.

Jesus, the Son of God, the Redeemer, very much is the centerpiece of all three readings, although of course the selection from Isaiah, from which comes the first reading, only prefigures Jesus.

Isaiah mentions no one by name, but the reading describes a faithful servant of God who, although suffering unjustly and greatly, will be steadfastly faithful to God.

Over the centuries, this passage from Isaiah, quite similar to three others in literary construction and in reference to the figure that Christians have called the “Suffering Servant,” has been popular among the pious. Believers through the ages have seen in them a description of Jesus. (These “songs” also provide readings for Holy Week, precisely for Good Friday.)

In the second reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Peter stands as the principal figure. Peter appears before Cornelius, whose name indicates Roman origins. In itself, this encounter is revealing. Peter did not limit his interest to Jews, whose heritage Peter shared.

Rather, the Apostle preached the Gospel to pagans, and indeed to the despised Romans, who were responsible for the military conquest and occupation of the Holy Land, a circumstance detested by the Jews.

Peter’s message is crisp but profound. Salvation is in Jesus. The Holy Spirit anointed Jesus as the Savior. God was with Jesus as the Lord went about “doing good works” and healing the sick.

This point, too, is crucial. The pagan Cornelius yearned for what is good and perfect, and thus wholeheartedly accepted Christ.

St. Mark’s Gospel furnishes the story of the Lord’s baptism in the River Jordan by John the Baptist.

Ritual washings, or baptisms, had become popular in certain Jewish circles in the first century. Homes were even built with ceremonial baths. The idea was that a person could visibly state the desire to be rid of sin, as if sin literally soiled the body, by washing in water.

John the Baptist acknowledges Jesus as the Redeemer. John insists that he himself is not the Savior. John confesses that he is “not worthy to loosen” (Mk 1:7) the sandal-straps of the Savior.

The Gospel is clear. Jesus is the perfect, innocent and absolutely sinless Lord. Nonetheless, Jesus assumes the sinfulness of humankind. Then God identifies Jesus as the Savior, and moreover as his Son. To make this declaration clear, God speaks in ancient Old Testament words and employs symbols that no Jew would have misunderstood.


This feast is great because it reveals to us the Lord’s identity. He is the Son of God. Not even a prophet of John’s holiness and tenacious faith was the Lord’s equal.

Secondly, Jesus assumes the sinfulness of us all. As stated elsewhere in the Scriptures by St. Paul, Jesus is a new Adam, a new and perfect representative of the human race. Unlike Adam, Jesus causes union with God, not estrangement from God. Jesus brings life, not death.

A common human nature unites all people with the Lord. He confirms this union by assuming the responsibility for human sin.

Note that Peter spoke for the other Apostles, for the Christian community, and, most importantly, for Jesus. The Church calls us to the Lord our Savior.

We are sinners, but in Jesus, we find reconciliation with God. Our reconciliation through Jesus is perfect, unbroken, and absolute, and in it is eternal life. †

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