‘And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
When You, O Lord were baptized in the Jordan
The worship of the Trinity was made manifest,
For the voice of the Father bore witness to You
And called You His beloved Son.
And the Spirit, in the form of a dove,
Confirmed the truthfulness of His word.
O Christ, our God, You have revealed Yourself
And have enlightened the world, glory to You!
Almighty ever-living God,
who, when Christ had been baptized in the River Jordan
and as the Holy Spirit descended upon him,
solemnly declared him your beloved Son,
grant that your children by adoption,
reborn of water and the Holy Spirit,
may always be well pleasing to you.
Thorough our Lord Jesus Christ; your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity
of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Is 42: 1-4, 6-7
Thus says the LORD:
Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
upon whom I have put my spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations,
not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
a bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching.
I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations,
to open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.
This prophecy of second-Isaiah was chosen for today, the feast which commemorates the baptism of Christ in the Jordan, because on that occasion the Father’s voice from heaven proclaimed that Christ was “his beloved servant in which he was well pleased.” Following the interpretation of the inspired Evangelists and of the ancient and constant tradition of the Church, we can have no hesitation in seeing in these words of second-Isaiah, written five centuries or so before Christ, a description of the Savior who came on earth to teach Jew and Gentile the new law of God, the law of love and mercy.
He who was the Son of God took our human nature in order to represent us, and as one of us to give our heavenly Father the perfect obedience and service which no mere man had done ever since the creation, and which no mere man could ever do. This perfect obedience or service of God which Christ, the perfect servant, gave the Father, went as far as the acceptance of the shameful and excruciating death on a cross. But all this he accepted gladly for us–it was in our name he did it–and because he did it, we are all raised to a new relationship with God. He has made us all, Jew and Gentile, the whole human race, adopted sons of his heavenly Father.
As members of his mystical body we can now, because he is our Head, give a service to God worthy of our new status, a service which God accepts from us because it is given to him and through “Christ our Lord.”
Today, as we offer the Mass, the sacrifice of Christ renewed before our eyes, let us try to realize the privilege that is ours. We are able, through Christ, to offer a sacrifice which gives infinite honor to God. We are able in spite of all our weaknesses and all our faults to give a service that is pleasing to God and to make some return for all he has done for us. We have become “good and faithful servants” because Christ the Son of God became the perfect servant of God for our sake.
Ps 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10.
The Lord will bless his people with peace.
Give to the LORD, you sons of God,
give to the LORD glory and praise,
Give to the LORD the glory due his name;
adore the LORD in holy attire.
The Lord will bless his people with peace.
The voice of the LORD is over the waters,
the LORD, over vast waters.
The voice of the LORD is mighty;
the voice of the LORD is majestic. The Lord will bless his people with peace.
The God of glory thunders,
and in his temple all say, “Glory!”
The LORD is enthroned above the flood;
the LORD is enthroned as king forever.
The Lord will bless his people with peace.
Peter proceeded to speak to those gathered
in the house of Cornelius, saying:
“In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.
Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly
is acceptable to him.
You know the word that he sent to the Israelites
as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all,
what has happened all over Judea,
beginning in Galilee after the baptism
that John preached,
how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth
with the Holy Spirit and power.
He went about doing good
and healing all those oppressed by the devil,
for God was with him.”
That day, nearly two thousand years ago, when Christ by his baptism in the Jordan, began his public preaching of salvation for all men, is a day–a feastday–no true Christian can ever forget. The baptism of John was for sinners–a sign of change of heart and a turning to God. Christ had no sin, he had never turned away from God, he was God–but he was the representative of sinful humanity. He represented us sinners that day and opened the door of salvation for us. In that ceremony Christ was proclaimed by the heavenly Father to be his son and faithful servant, and the power of the Holy Spirit came upon him.
But this was all for us; as God he already had all things in common with the Father and the Holy Spirit. But in his human nature–our weak human nature which he took on himself in order to be one of us, and our representative–he was on that day proclaimed God’s true and faithful servant. At the same moment we human beings were accepted in him and through him (i.e. through his perfect obedience even unto the death on the cross) as God’s adopted children. The mission of Christ was for us. The Incarnation took place because God’s infinite love wanted man, the masterpiece of his whole creation, to have a share in the divine gifts of the Blessed Trinity. God united the divine with the human nature in Christ. We mortal men were raised above our human nature; we would become immortal, not that we would never die on this earth–Christ himself died in his human nature-but “he would raise us up on the last day” to share forever with the Father, the Holy Spirit and the Incarnate Son the eternal bliss of heaven.
How could a Christian, one who knows all this, ever refuse to do the little part he is called on to do–“to fear God, that is, to reverence and respect him and to do what is right”? Reverence and respect for God should come easily from anyone who realizes what God has done for him. But true respect for God is not proved by a few distracted prayers and a grudging attendance at Sunday Mass. It is proved by striving to keep the laws Christ gave us, i.e. doing what is right, every day of our lives. This is difficult at times but if we keep our eternity–the unending life–before our eyes, the few short years of hardship and training on earth, will seem very short indeed. There is no comparison between what God has prepared for us, and promises us, and the trifling conditions he asks us to fulfill in order to earn his promised reward.
Lk 3:15-16, 21-22
The people were filled with expectation,
and all were asking in their hearts
whether John might be the Christ.
John answered them all, saying,
“I am baptizing you with water,
but one mightier than I is coming.
I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
After all the people had been baptized
and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying,
heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him
in bodily form like a dove.
And a voice came from heaven,
“You are my beloved Son;
with you I am well pleased.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC)
CCC 536 The baptism of Jesus is on his part the acceptance and inauguration of his mission as God’s suffering Servant. He allows himself to be numbered among sinners; he is already “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”.1 Already he is anticipating the “baptism” of his bloody death.2 Already he is coming to “fulfill all righteousness”, that is, he is submitting himself entirely to his Father’s will: out of love he consents to this baptism of death for the remission of our sins.3 The Father’s voice responds to the Son’s acceptance, proclaiming his entire delight in his Son.4 The Spirit whom Jesus possessed in fullness from his conception comes to “rest on him”.5 Jesus will be the source of the Spirit for all mankind. At his baptism “the heavens were opened”6 – the heavens that Adam’s sin had closed – and the waters were sanctified by the descent of Jesus and the Spirit, a prelude to the new creation.
CCC 608 After agreeing to baptize him along with the sinners, John the Baptist looked at Jesus and pointed him out as the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”.7 By doing so, he reveals that Jesus is at the same time the suffering Servant who silently allows himself to be led to the slaughter and who bears the sin of the multitudes, and also the Paschal Lamb, the symbol of Israel’s redemption at the first Passover.8 Christ’s whole life expresses his mission: “to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”9
CCC 696 Fire. While water signifies birth and the fruitfulness of life given in the Holy Spirit, fire symbolizes the transforming energy of the Holy Spirit’s actions. The prayer of the prophet Elijah, who “arose like fire” and whose “word burned like a torch,” brought down fire from heaven on the sacrifice on Mount Carmel.10 This event was a “figure” of the fire of the Holy Spirit, who transforms what he touches. John the Baptist, who goes “before [the Lord] in the spirit and power of Elijah,” proclaims Christ as the one who “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”11 Jesus will say of the Spirit: “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!”12 In the form of tongues “as of fire,” the Holy Spirit rests on the disciples on the morning of Pentecost and fills them with himself13 The spiritual tradition has retained this symbolism of fire as one of the most expressive images of the Holy Spirit’s actions.14 “Do not quench the Spirit.”15
CCC 2600 The Gospel according to St. Luke emphasizes the action of the Holy Spirit and the meaning of prayer in Christ’s ministry. Jesus prays before the decisive moments of his mission: before his Father’s witness to him during his baptism and Transfiguration, and before his own fulfillment of the Father’s plan of love by his Passion.16 He also prays before the decisive moments involving the mission of his apostles: at his election and call of the Twelve, before Peter’s confession of him as “the Christ of God,” and again that the faith of the chief of the Apostles may not fail when tempted.17 Jesus’ prayer before the events of salvation that the Father has asked him to fulfill is a humble and trusting commitment of his human will to the loving will of the Father.
1 Jn 1:29; cf. Is 53:12.
2 Cf. Mk 10:38; Lk 12:50.
3 Mt 3:15; cf. 26:39.
4 Cf. Lk 3:22; Is 42:1.
5 Jn 1:32-33; cf. Is 11:2.
6 Mt 3:16.
7 Jn 1:29; cf. Lk 3:21; Mt 3:14-15; Jn 1:36.
8 Is 53:7,12; cf. Jer 11:19; Ex 12:3-14; Jn 19:36; 1 Cor 5:7.
9 Mk 10:45.
10 Sir 48:1; cf. 1 Kings 18:38-39.
11 Lk 1:17; 3:16.
12 Lk 12:49.
13 Acts 2:3-4.
14 Cf. St. John of the Cross, The Living Flame of Love, in The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, tr. K. Kavanaugh, OCD, and O. Rodriguez, OCD (Washington DC: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1979), 577 ff.
15 1 Thess 5:1.
16 Cf. Lk 3:21; 9:28; 22:41-44.
17 Cf. Lk 6:12; 9:18-20; 22:32.
Of the hundreds of Jews who had flocked to hear the Baptist’s message, and who were present when Christ insisted on going through John’s baptismal rite and who had probably heard the words from heaven proclaiming him to be the expected Messiah, only two left the Baptist and followed him. One of these was Andrew and the other was most probably John the Evangelist. Later in that day Andrew told Peter, his brother, that he had found the Messiah and Peter joined him too.
What was wrong with the hundreds of others? We are told they were all agog about the Messiah and were wondering in their hearts if John was not he. Yet when the real Messiah was pointed out to them they did nothing about it. John had told them the Messiah would baptize them, not with water as he did, but with the Holy Spirit of God, and with fire. As Jews they must have understood that this meant he would make of them a holy people, a spiritual people, a people close to God and cleansed from all earthly attachments.
Was it this that held them back? Were their hearts so centered on the things of earth, the things of this life, that they had no time for things spiritual? Were they so anxious for a king, a messiah, who would set them free from the hated pagan Romans and give them once more a powerful earthly kingdom, that talk of the kingdom of God and of a spiritual life made no impression on them? Their dealings with Christ during his public mission amongst them, their disbelief, their opposition, their persecution, which led eventually to the death on the cross answer these questions for us. The vast majority of the Jews of that day did not want a spiritual Messiah or kingdom. They were not interested in a heaven of the future, they wanted their heaven, their happiness, and prosperity here on earth.
Before we pass any judgement on such folly let us have a look into our own hearts today. We are Christians, we are followers of Christ, we know he was God, we believe his word. We are convinced that getting to heaven is more important than getting all the treasures and pleasures this earth has to offer. But do we always live up to these convictions, are we true Christians the seven days of the week? In our work, in our speech, in our dealings with others, in our family life are we truly following Christ and his teaching?
Is my way of life, my daily conduct, such that it would cause a non-Christian to say: “That man has something noble and sensible about him, that man is concerned with the things that really matter; that man has an inward peace and sense of security which I have not got, a sense of peace and security which comes not from the things of this world. I must find out what it is and get it for myself?”
In all sincerity I cannot see any non-Christian speaking thus of me today, but helped by God’s grace, it could and may be truly said of me in the days to come. God grant that this may be so.
Applications written by Fr. Kevin O’Sullivan and used with permission of Franciscan Press
The Baptism of the Lord
In the gospel account of the baptism of Jesus, the mystery of death and Resurrection, sin and redemption, sin and forgiveness is prefigured: Jesus descends into the depths of the Jordan. Being submerged in the river is a symbolic representation of the process of death. An old life is buried, so that a new one can arise. Because Jesus himself is without sin and has no old life to bury, his acceptance of baptism is an anticipation of the cross, whereby he begins to share in our lot and to take upon himself our sins and our death. At the moment when he comes up out of the river, the heavens part, and from them is heard the voice in which the Father acknowledges him as his Son. The opening of heaven is a sign that this descent into our night is the dawning of a new day, that the barrier between God and man is being broken down by this identification of the Son with us: God and man is being broken down by this identification of the Son with us: God is no longer inaccessible; in the depths of our sins, and even of death, he searches for us and brings us into the light again. To this extent the baptism of Jesus anticipates the entire drama of his life and death and at the same time explains them to us.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Almighty, eternal God, when the Spirit descended upon Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan, you revealed him as your own beloved Son. Keep us, your children born of water and the Spirit, faithful to our calling. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.