THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD
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A reading from the prophet Isaiah 42:1-4. 6-7
Responsorial Psalm Psalm 29:1-4. 9-10. R/. v. 11
A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 10:34-38
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
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In May, 418 A.D., the bishops of the area of North Africa we now call Libya held one of their frequent synods in the city of Carthage. Throughout the third, fourth, and fifth centuries the bishops of that region held frequent synods to discuss with priests and people important and pressing issues of the day. The decisions made were published in what were called “canons” or “measures” that were to be observed throughout that vast region.
The second canon of the 418 A.D. synod concerned the baptising of children. It was decreed that infants should be baptised. The reason for this was that the region had been hit by a severe famine and the synod decided that, since many children were likely to die in such dire circumstances, the baptism of babies ought to be permitted.
Clearly infant baptism was not a regular feature of the churches in that part of North Africa. Baptism was an adult sacrament. It was to be celebrated only when an adult had reached that level of Christian maturity that the ensured he or she would be able to carry out the responsibilities demanded of all Christians. It is impossible to understand what those responsibilities are if we begin with a consideration of infant baptism. Only adults can be entrusted with the vocation of Christian maturity. Baptism into the life and purpose of the Church is an ordination into that responsibility:
Being Church means being God’s people, in accordance with the great plan of his fatherly love. This means that we are to be God’s leaven in the midst of humanity. It means proclaiming and bringing God’s salvation into our world, which often goes astray and needs to be encouraged, given hope and strengthened on the way.
The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium) §114
In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (Matthew 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized.
The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium) §120
We celebrate in our liturgy the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple in Jerusalem (2 February). On the Feast of the Holy Family we remember a visit of the family to that same Temple for Passover and the incident of Jesus listening and asking questions of the teachers there. But Jesus does not engage in teaching, preaching, and healing until he is baptised. It is the adult Jesus that is dipped in the waters of the Jordan by John the Baptist. Why?
Luke and the Baptism of Jesus
We will not find an answer to our question in the brief account of the baptism of Jesus we find in the Gospel according to Saint Luke. His account conceals more than it reveals. This is what Luke wrote for his Christian readers and hearers and what we hear proclaimed today:
Now when all the people were baptized, and Jesus had been baptized and was praying, the heaven(s) were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased”.
This comes after John the Baptist has been imprisoned by Herod Antipas because he had publicly denounced his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife. It is as if Luke had to record the baptism of Jesus but does not want to underline the importance of John the Baptist. That is strange, given that he records the angel’s visit Zechariah, the visit by Mary to Elizabeth, the birth of John and the great Benedictus hymn of the boy’s father. Luke gives a substantial account of the teaching and activity of John, even quoting the prophet Isaiah, as do Matthew and Mark, to authenticate his ministry (read Luke 3:1-20). Yet he does not tell his readers that Jesus met John as that great man was baptising in the Jordan. After John was imprisoned, Luke writes “Jesus being baptised, the heavens opened …”. We, of course, will rightly conclude
that John baptised Jesus. But Luke says so in a half-hearted way. Why?
A reading from the prophet Isaiah 42:1-4. 6-7
Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be discouraged
till he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law.
Thus says God, the Lord,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people on it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness;
I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
a light for the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
The word of the LORD.
This is a famous and much debated extract from the Book of Isaiah. Historically, this section of the Book (chapters 40 to 53) emerged at the end of the Babylon exile and the beginning of the resettlement of the province of Judah by the returning exiles (536 B.C.). Whoever wrote what is often called Second Isaiah lived in Babylon and his writings disclose what indeed came to pass. The new imperial power (the Persians) allowed the exiles to return to their land, to the city of Jerusalem, permitted the Temple to be rebuilt, and the full practice of their ancient faith.
What the returning exiles needed was courage. They needed courage to return and to rebuild all that had been lost. What the prophet who wrote Second Isaiah, and the prophet who continued revelations in Third Isaiah (chapters 54-66), needed to do was to assure the people that their God was not defeated. The God of their faith exists, the God who created heaven and earth, and the God who holds out salvation. The writer of Second Isaiah was a poet, a poet who sings in glorious images and metaphors of a new time, a new peace. Of course, it never happened in their days but hope in God would, insisted this poet, one day be realised. It is that hope that we read of today.
A servant will come. What the Messiah of God will usher in is what is everywhere in the Bible declared to be God’s way. Pray the images this poet urges us to see as God’s creation, as God’s new world:
justice to the nations
bruised reeds unbroken
burning wick unquenched
God taking humanity by his hand
people in God’s safe keeping
a new covenant
a light for dark nations
blind eyes opened
prisoners freed from dark dungeons
These are blessings we hear today. But, as we shall see, they are but a part of the renewal God means to create on this earth. Read on beyond today’s reading and you will come to the reassurances that our hopes are not idle dreams but rooted in the very nature of God:
I, I am the LORD,
And beside me there is no saviour.
I am God, says the LORD.
Hence forth I AM.
There is none who can deliver…
It is the LORD who thus speaks,
The Holy One of Israel.
I am the LORD,
your Holy One,
the Creator of Israel,
I, I am he
who blots out your transgressions
for my own sake,
and I will not remember your sins.
Indeed, if we read on into chapter 44 the solid foundations of our hopes is spelled out in ringing tones:
Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel
and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
“I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god.
Who is like me? Let him proclaim it.
Let him declare and set it before me,
since I appointed an ancient people.
Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.
Fear not, nor be afraid;
have I not told you from of old and declared it?
And you are my witnesses!
Is there a God besides me?
There is no (other) Rock!
I know not any!
These are the hopes that we see and believe to be brought to us in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Responsorial Psalm Psalm 29:1-4. 9-10. R/. v. 11
R/. The LORD will bless his people with peace.
Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
worship the LORD in the splendour of holiness. R/.
The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the LORD, over many waters.
The voice of the LORD is powerful;
the voice of the LORD is full of majesty. R/.
The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth
and in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
The LORD sits enthroned over the flood;
the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.
R/. The LORD will bless his people with peace.
This is a song that celebrates the greatness of God. It is a call to heavenly beings to bow down before the one God and to proclaim God’s glory, God’s strength, God’s majesty, God’s holiness. For this is the God who presides over all creation, the God, too, who presides in the Temple and calls his people to come into his Presence. And what the LORD God gives to the world is nothing but blessings. What God gives to those who sing “Glory to God in the highest heaven” is blessings and the wellbeing that comes with being blessed by God.
A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 10:34-38
Then Peter opened his mouth and said [to the household of Cornelius]: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
The Word of the LORD.
The background to this reading is the story of the centurion Cornelius and his baptism and that of his whole household into the Christian movement. As we have seen in reflecting on the Feast of the Epiphany, an angel instructed Cornelius to send for Peter. Peter was bidden by a voice from heaven to eat from a sheet of unclean animals. After persuasion he realised the vision was a broad hint that unclean pagans could be admitted into the new community brought to life by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Today’s reading is part of the address Peter gave to the household of Cornelius.
This reading is relevant to today’s celebration because Peter declares that, in being baptised by John, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power”. The purpose of this anointing was that Jesus
began to do what God intended: “he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil”. God was gospelling peace through Jesus Christ. It is not exclusive good news. Rather, this embrace of God’s love “shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him”.1 As Pope Francis reminds us, all who are anointed must engage in gospelling. To live in the embrace of God’s love means proclaiming and bringing God’s salvation into our world, which often goes astray and needs to be encouraged, given hope and strengthened on the way.2
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire”.
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from
1 The word “fear” occurs 18 times in Luke’s Gospel and 7 times in his second work The Acts of the Apostles. An examination of what “fear” means in biblical contexts will be offered in discussing the Gospel reading for the 19th Sunday of the Year in the Year of Luke.
2 See Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium) §119- §121, entitled We are all missionary disciples.
heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased”.
The Gospel of the LORD.
Two ‘Why” questions:
(i) Why is the baptism of Jesus a baptism of a mature adult?
(ii) Why does Luke gloss over the baptism of Jesus by John so awkwardly?
(i) The first question may be expressed in another way. Why is the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus withheld until he was about thirty years of age? One possible answer may be that the vocation to be God’s Messiah would not have been grasped if it were presented to the world of Jesus in a younger man. Wisdom was the preserve of maturity. The people of Nazareth, his home town, were astonished when Jesus taught in their synagogue and asked, “Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him? (Mark 6:2). The idea that Jesus might be God’s Messiah is proposed by Philip in John’s Gospel:
Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph”.
Nathaniel, a man Jesus greatly admired when he met him, had the perfect answer to that daft idea:
Can anything good come out of Nazareth?
That is not a very convincing argument. But we should remember that it is Luke who tells us most about the development of Jesus. It is Luke who tells of the presentation in the Temple and who stresses that “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom”, adding that “the favour of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40). This child grows, not only under the watchful care of Joseph and Mary but with God’s eye upon him. Remember, too, that, though “his parents went year by year to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover” (Luke 2:41), it was “when he was twelve years old” that Jesus went up with them. While, according to Jewish understandings, Jesus was beginning to move into adulthood, he was still “the boy Jesus” (2:43). When the family returns to Nazareth, Luke again lays stress on the fact that “Jesus was increasing in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and man” (2:52).3 Clearly, Luke is keen to stress that Jesus had some growing-up to do. Again, it is Luke who informs his readers and hearers that “Jesus, when beginning, was about thirty years of age” (3:23).4 It seems clear that Luke wants to stress the piety of the family in which this child
3 The verb here means “to increase”, “to advance” and it is an imperfect tense stressing continuous activity. It is best to translate it as “he was advancing in” wisdom.
4 This is the word-for-word translation of the phrase in v.23. Luke means that Jesus was about thirty when he began his public ministry.
grew up and to emphasise that his development was under the watchful eye of God. What is underlined is the wisdom with which this child and young adult was endowed until the days when he began to undertake the work assigned to “the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32). The “angel of the LORD” appeared to the shepherds and announced that the new-born was none other than “a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). About thirty years later that Messiah will announce his programme to his own people in the synagogue of Nazareth (4:16-19).
(ii) The second question is more closely related to St Luke’s awkward account of the baptism of Jesus. What is clear is that Luke does not emphasise the baptism. What Luke says is this, again in a plain translation:
And in the baptising of all the people and the baptising of Jesus and he praying, it happened that the heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit came down on him, bodily in form - as a dove - and there was a voice out of heaven, “You are my son, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased.
What is clear is that Luke wants to impress on his readers and hearers that Jesus was praying and, in that moment of his praying, the heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit came in visible form upon him. As the Spirit came upon him, a voice out of heaven, God’s voice, identified this man, out of all the people baptised, as his Son, the beloved.
To grasp what Luke is about in his short account in 3:21-22, first we need to look at Jesus, the one who prays. For it is on the man praying that the Holy Spirit comes, with the voice of God claiming that man as his own well-beloved Son.
It is attention to detail that reveals the hidden depths of any portrait. The detail of prayer is a key to reading Luke's portrait of Jesus, just as the absence of it in John speaks volumes. The whole of the Gospel according to Luke is decked with praying people. It opens with Zachariah praying with and for the people in the Temple. It ends with the specially chosen Eleven and all those who were with them, including the two who had run back from Emmaus, leaving the Mount of Olives where they had witnessed the ascension of Jesus and returning to Jerusalem with great joy to spend their days continually in the Temple praising God (Gospel of Luke 24:50-53). Praying is the colour that gives defining light and shade to Luke's portrait of Jesus.
Luke's story, then, begins with people praying. It is evening. The priest Zachariah is in the inner court of the Temple, enkindling the incense on which wafted the prayers of the whole congregation of the people to their God. It is, Luke would have his listeners remember, the precise moment of prayer in which the angel Gabriel appeared to the prophet Daniel as he, too, was praying (Prophecy of Daniel 9:21). To Zachariah, the man too old to hope, Gabriel comes again and announces a much
prayed-for child. The meeting of mothers, a meeting which discloses what the identity of Mary's child is, bursts into prayer, into a song of praise which has never palled:
My soul glorifies the LORD
and my spirit rejoices in God,
my Saviour !
The birth of John (the Benedictus), the birth of Jesus (the Gloria), his presentation in the Temple (the Nunc Dimittis), all are garlanded in prayers. When Jesus comes to be baptized by John he comes praying and in that praying, the heavens open, the Holy Spirit descends and God tells who it is that is anointed to preach good news in a broken world: You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased. Beginnings are cradled in prayer.
The ending of Luke's Gospel is, in broad outline, the same as the endings of the other Gospels. The trials, death and resurrection of Jesus are presented by all four gospel-makers, each with individual emphasis, to be sure, but the same story may be traced in each. It is in the detail that differences abound, and, in Luke's case, one detail, among his many peculiarities, catches the attention of the careful reader. According to Luke, the ending of the life of Jesus is shrouded in prayer.
After the Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus, followed by those same fool-hardy men, went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives. Having warned his followers to pray lest they be brought by God to a test of fidelity that they will surely fail, he withdrew from them and prayed:
And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done”.
Some ancient traditions add that an angel appeared to comfort him and that his sweat fell like drops of blood as he prayed the more fervently. While such may not be the case, the agony of his prayer is plain. When he rose from his prayer and returned to find his disciples asleep, yet again he warned them to pray. Lacking prayer, they will be brought to the test and will fail. Jesus will not fail; sustained by prayer, he will face what must be faced.
Brought to the Place of the Skull and crucified, there are two last prayers, death prayers, entirely in keeping with the life lived. For those who brought him to the place of crucifixion: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”. And for himself, a final prayer, at the evening of life, an offering: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”. A prayer by one sent to seek and to save the lost, a prayer that the seeking and the saving have not been in vain. And a prayer that the Spirit given at the baptism to a beloved Son and, in this man, accomplished the Father's will, having been handed back to his Father, will be outpoured on all flesh on Pentecost Day. A prayer, therefore, that all will be well, all manner of thing will be well.
The beginnings are swaddled in prayers. The endings are shrouded in prayer. In between there is a whole manual of praying which is a guide for those who would make the Jesus who was a Jesus who is in our time and place. First, there is Jesus, the man who prays. Luke tells that he was accustomed to retreat to the desert or to the mountain to pray. Before hard choices are made, praying is imperative:
In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in the prayer of God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: Simon, whom he called Peter, and his brother Andrew, James and John … and Judas who became a traitor.
In the prayer of God! A phrase so awkward that some ancient manuscripts omit it and modern translators tidy it up. But Luke is seldom clumsy and his very awkwardness is our gain. In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke insists that the apostles were chosen through the Holy Spirit (1:2). The prayer of Jesus is an empowered prayer, a prayer with all the strength of God's Spirit. St Paul, who knew a thing or two about praying, tells that When we cry, 'Abba! The Father! it is the very Spirit witnessing in our spirit that we are God's children (Letter to the Romans 8:15-16). The prayer of God's Son is empowered by the same Spirit that empowers our praying. A prayer of Jesus, a prayer made as he rejoiced in the power of the Spirit in him, is a template for our praying:
In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said,
“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
The point of this window into the prayer of Jesus is to see that otherwise insignificant people who are tiny acorns at the business of praying become mighty praying oaks because their praying is in the same Spirit that gives strength to the praying of Jesus. The welcoming Jesus welcomes people into his praying and all praying is thus a praying-with, part of the intimate chatting which makes the coming of Jesus into our world so loving, so vulnerable, and so re-assuring.
On the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year C, the Year of Luke, the Gospel reading is Luke’s account of Jesus teaching his disciples to pray and giving them what to us is a very unfamiliar version of The Lord’s Prayer. That version will be at the centre of our reflections on the Sunday’s readings assigned to that Sunday.
Perhaps the last word on prayer should come from a parable of Jesus about serious sinner who knew how to pray. The parable concerns people who were cocksure of
their own righteousness and regarded other people with contempt:
Two men went up to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up boldly and prayed thus: “I give thanks to you, O God, that I am not like the rest of humanity, rapacious, unjust, adulterers, nor, indeed, like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I pay tithes on everything I acquire!” But the tax collector, standing afar off, and reluctant even to raise his eyes to heaven, struck his breast and said, “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner”. I tell you this man went home right before God unlike the other fellow. For people who exalt themselves will be humbled; people who humble themselves will be exalted. Luke 18:9-14
Another last word on the Jesus who prays and, from his experience, teaches his disciples how to pray. If you ask why did Jesus pray, the answer is quite simple. He needed to.
Jesus: the Messiah
The second reason the baptism of Jesus is told so briefly and awkwardly in Luke is that Luke wants to concentrate the attention of his readers/hearers on the fact that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the one filled with God’s Holy Spirit. What Luke emphasises in relating his account of the baptism of Jesus is not the baptism itself. It is John’s evaluation of what kind of baptism Jesus will give to those who follow him: he will baptise you in Holy Spirit and fire.
He will be able to do this because he is what the people suspect: the Christ, the Messiah.5
The English word Christ is derived from the Greek word Christos (χριστός), and that Greek work is used to translate a Hebrew word, messiah (meshiah). The Hebrew word, found often in the Old Testament, means ‘one who is anointed’. The word does not of itself explain ‘anointed for what purpose’. Why pour rich, expensive perfumed oil on somebody’s head? Perhaps for cosmetic reasons? Of course, yes. But in a solemn religious ceremony?
In fact, such anointing with precious oils was part of a solemn appointment, especially a coronation, and usually in a religious service (see the coronation of King Solomon, 1 Kings 1:38-40). Ancient kings, and, for our purposes, kings of the people of ancient Israel, were anointed. So the word ‘Christ’ is not a name. It designates a job. ‘The anointed One’ is a way of identifying one who is king. But priests and prophets may have been anointed. So when the idea that a descendant of David would come in the future, anointed to be king and to carry out God’s saving purposes for the world, such a one was designated ‘The Messiah’, the anointed one. To jump ahead a little, we must realize that the word ‘Christian’ means ‘someone anointed’. The burden - and the vocation - is to remember every day ‘anointed for what?’.
If we turn to the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time in Year C, the Year of Luke, the Gospel reading of that day
5 He concept “Messiah” will concern those who read Luke’s Gospel from the very beginning (see 2:11) to his very last chapter (see 24:26). As we work through the Gospel our understanding of this title will deepen.
presents Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth quoting from the prophets Isaiah. That quotation ought greatly concern all who hear it proclaimed on that day. The full text from which that quotation is drawn will enlighten us as to what ‘the anointed one’, was expected to carry out to fulfill God’s hopes for our world:
The Spirit of the LORD God is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.
They shall build up the ancient ruins;
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.
To go through these four verses is to sketch a profile of who and for what purposes Jesus, the Christ, the anointed one, was born into our world and baptized by John:
To gospel the poor
To bind up the broken-hearted
To proclaim freedom to captive slaves
To unbind those bound up in prison
To inflict God’s wrath
To comfort all who mourn
To plant the good name of God in the world.
That - and a few other details in these verses - is the programme of the Christ. It is, therefore, also a sketch of the programme of anyone who rejoices in the name Christian.
But there is more. There was, for the Jewish people, a programme for the healing of their ills, the ending of foreign domination, of the exploitation of their wealth in onerous taxation, and the removal of a host of cruelties of peoples subject to imperial, colonial, exploitative powers, then, as now:
Strangers shall stand and tend your flocks;
foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers;
but you shall be called the priests of the LORD;
they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God;
you shall eat the wealth of the nations,
and in their glory you shall boast.
Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion;
instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot;
therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion;
they shall have everlasting joy.
For I the LORD love justice;
I hate robbery and wrong;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their offspring shall be known among the nations,
and their descendants in the midst of the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge them,
that they are an offspring the LORD has blessed.
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD;
my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest
with a beautiful headdress,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to sprout up before all the nations
These verses add further responsibilities on the one called ‘the Christ’, and on those who bear the name Christian. The people who emerge in the glory of the Christ’s achievements will be:
priests of the LORD
ministers of our God
inheritors of a lasting covenant
blessed of the LORD God
clothed with the garment of salvation
dressed in robes of righteousness.
All these blessings and responsibilities devolved on the shoulders of Jesus of Nazareth. The angel of the LORD who appeared to the shepherds and declared that the
child born is “a Saviour, Christ the Lord”. Zacheriah in his glorious Benedictus hymn (Luke 1:67-79) sang that the child of Mary would be “a horn of salvation”, a trumpet blast in our world, announcing a saving from the world’s pains, for in Jesus God had visited his people.
That is what Luke means to emphasise in today’s Gospel excerpts. The people ask John if he were the Messiah, the Christ. But John points to Jesus, to the one who will baptize the world with the blessings outlined by the poet-prophet of Isaiah 61, and by so many of Israel’s prophets.
But not without the Holy Spirit. For that is what Luke also underlines. God’s Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in bodily form - so that people might see - and a voice from heaven identified the one dripping with the waters of Jordan.
Of course, the same Spirit filled the hearts of those who were in that little upstairs room on Pentecost Day. They were, as John foretold, baptized in the fire of the Holy Spirit. Peter - for once - got the message:
We all are witnesses.
The good news, the gospel we are gospelled with today is that the baptism of Jesus is that same baptism that baptised Peter , and the same baptism that baptised us - and for the same purposes. We are all messiahs.
In Luke’s first two chapters we can identify what it was/is that Jesus is anointed to be and to do.
Προσδοκῶντος δὲ τοῦ λαοῦ καὶ διαλογιζομένων πάντων ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις
αὐτῶν περὶ τοῦ Ἰωάννου, μήποτε αὐτὸς εἴη ὁ χριστός, 16 ἀπεκρίνατο ⸂λέγων πᾶσιν ὁ Ἰωάννης⸃· Ἐγὼ μὲν ὕδατι βαπτίζω ὑμᾶς· ἔρχεται δὲ ὁ ἰσχυρότερός μου, οὗ οὐκ εἰμὶ ἱκανὸς λῦσαι τὸν ἱμάντα τῶν ὑποδημάτων αὐτοῦ· αὐτὸς ὑμᾶς βαπτίσει ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ καὶ πυρί· 17 οὗ τὸ πτύον ἐν τῇ χειρὶ αὐτοῦ ⸀διακαθᾶραι τὴν ἅλωνα αὐτοῦ καὶ ⸀συναγαγεῖν τὸν σῖτον εἰς τὴν ἀποθήκην
αὐτοῦ, τὸ δὲ ἄχυρον κατακαύσει πυρὶ ἀσβέστῳ.