The Baptism of The Lord, January 13, 2008

Isaiah 42: 1-4, 6-7

Acts 10: 34 - 38

Matthew 3: 13-17

A word of explanation:
Jesus asks John to baptize him because he wants to accomplish what is just and right. The theme of justice has a central role in the Gospel of Matthew. Justice, in the broad sense, usually means only the conduct required by God. Since he came to fulfill all justice (3, 15), Jesus reveals by both his words and his actions the true nature of justice which should mobilize all the energy and power of a disciple. Justice is an acting-justly, conforming to Gods justice, an attitude of openness which allows God to to define what will lead a person to the fulfillment of his /her vocation. It is thus a trusting and simple obedience. There is only one obstacle to the justice God wants: self-sufficiency.

John the Baptist has gathered people on the banks of the Jordan, at the edge of the desert. The Evangelist insists that the initiative comes from Jesus who goes to John to be baptized by him. But John, who has already confessed that the Baptism coming from Jesus is superior, (vv.11-12) declares his submission. Nevertheless, Jesus insists on the reversal of roles : it is good for both of them to do what is just. The baptism of Jesus by John is just then, because it the will of God that Jesus show his solidarity with those who are converted in order to receive the Kingdom. It is right also that John and his disciples get used to the idea of a humble Messiah, a brother of sinful humanity, our brother too.

So Jesus is baptized; he is plunged into the memory of a people who confess their sinful history. He accepts to go down into the depths with the people. He emerges and the heavens open revealing the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him. We recall the text of Isaiah : "For a long time we have been the people over whom you no longer reign and who no longer bear your name. Oh, if you would rend the heavens and come down..." (Is 63, 19). The heavens which the Ancients imagined like a solid cupola, should open so that God is manifested. For Jesus, the heavens open so that the Spirit can descend on him. The Spirit of peace and tenderness that breaks the heart of the Father when he hears the cry of distress of the people, the call of his Son. The opening of Heaven, the revelation that God makes of himself, is the communication of the Spirit. The voice of the Father echoes the royal voice of Psalm 2 giving Jesus identity : "This is my Son." It adds : "beloved," which in the Greek Bible denotes a particular son - Isaac in the episode of the sacrifice. Weaving together the title of the royal Messiah and this title, Matthew adds the shadow of Calvary to the title of the glorious Messiah. "In him I have placed all my love" reminds us of the Suffering Servants vocation in Isaiah.

At his Baptism, Jesus is not alone: he is with his people and offers himself, the Son of God, as the leader of all those who will welcome this revelation and open themselves to the gift of God.

How will Jesus live this identity, this mission that he receives from the Father ? The scene of the temptation is directly linked to that of the Spirits descent:" Then Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit." It is as Son of God that Jesus is tempted. The joy of birth in the Spirit is immediately threatened, put into a situation of doubt. The Adversary, the devil, appears almost as a reaction. What has the promise of life given at birth become when one is threatened this way in the desert, the place of solitude ? Jesus has to choose it and, in doing so, submit himself to the Father.

Lord, grant us this day to hear for ourselves the call to be your child and to give our consent; for it is in this way that we fulfill all justice and realize the vocation destined for every human being. Grant us to know how to enter into that attitude of simple and trusting in thanksgiving for so great a gift.

—Sophie Ramond, R.A.