10 January 2016: Baptism of the Lord

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 42:1-4, 6-7
Is 40:1-5, 9-11
Ps 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10
Ps 104:1b-2, 3-4, 24-25, 27-28, 29-30
Acts 10:34-38
Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7
Lk 3:15-16, 21-22

Lectionary note: On the Baptism of the Lord, the Lectionary presents optional readings for the first and second readings. For the first reading the celebrant can choose Is 42:1-4, 6-7 or Is 40:1-5,9-11. For the second reading the celebrant can choose Acts 10:34-38 or Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7. This reflection uses Is 42 for the first reading, and Acts 10 for the second reading.


Baptism: commitment to mission

This week RCIA catechumens and all the believing community hear the story of John’s baptism of Jesus. Catechumens are preparing for their Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist), which will take place at the Easter Vigil. The already-baptized reflect on our own baptismal mystery and mission.

The first reading introduces the first of Isaiah’s four “servant songs.” The Greek version of Isaiah uses the word παῖς (“pahees”), which the Lectionary editors translate as “servant.” παῖς can also mean “son/daughter,” “child,” or “slave.” Isaiah tells us that God chooses this servant-son and puts God’s spirit into him. God charges the servant-son with a specific mission: to establish justice on the earth, to bring justice to all nations, to teach, to be a light to everyone, to heal blindness, and to free prisoners. This is a description of Jesus’ mission, and connects the first reading to the gospel.

In the second reading from Acts, Peter’s preaching provides a basic outline of Jesus’ life: Jesus is baptized by John and begins his mission of “doing good and healing.” As in Isaiah’s song of the servant-son, Peter tells his hearers that God’s spirit is upon Jesus, and Jesus’ mission is to heal and to save.

In Luke’s gospel, John baptizes Jesus. As Jesus prays, the Holy Spirit comes upon Jesus (just as the servant-son receives God’s spirit in the first reading). God proclaims: “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.” God’s words echo Isaiah’s servant song: “Here is my servant-son …, my chosen-beloved one with whom I am pleased.” Jesus’ baptism marks the start of his mission of healing and saving. Jesus is the messiah, the fulfillment of Isaiah’s servant-son prophecy-song, and God’s own son, filled with the Spirit.

For catechumens in the RCIA process, baptism is a gigantic step. Baptism is a mystery that initiates and in-corporates us into the believing community. God charges the baptized with the same mission as Jesus. Through baptism’s water we become God’s παῖς and have God’s Spirit poured into us to bring justice, to teach, to be a light, to heal, to save. Every time we make the sign of the cross, or dip our hands in holy water, or are dismissed from Mass, the gesture, water, and words remind us of our baptismal mission. We are God’s beloved. Is God well pleased with the way in which we live out our baptismal mission?

–Terence Sherlock

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