This Sunday the Church celebrates the Baptism of the Lord which marked the beginning of Jesus public ministry. It focuses on the revelation of Jesus to the nation as Messiah by John the Baptizer who revealed Him to those who were awaiting the fulfillment of God’s promises. In many ways this is the same celebration as last week when in the Epiphany Jesus was revealed to representatives of the Gentile world. The question first asked by John of why he should baptize Jesus is a good one. Jesus is baptized not to show His need of repentance but to show the extent of ours. Jesus’ baptism is another way in which He chose to identify with us, not in our noble or great moments but in our sinfulness. By stepping into that stream Jesus stepped more deeply into our humanity. Later He would continue this identification with sinners by sharing meals with them. With this celebration the Christmas Season ends although the echoes of the revelation theme will continue in the Gospel reading for next Sunday.
First Reading: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
1 Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; Indeed, she has received from the hand of the LORD double for all her sins.
3 A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!
4 Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; The rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.
5 Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all mankind shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
9 Go up onto a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings; Cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news! Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: Here is your God!
10 Here comes with power the Lord GOD, who rules by his strong arm; Here is his reward with him, his recompense before him.
11 Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, Carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.
NOTES on First Reading:
* 40:2 Service: servitude and exile.
* 40:3-5 The figurative language here describes the actual return of the exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem. It is the Lord who leads them; their road is made easy for them. Matthew 3:3 and parallels see in these verses a prophecy of the Baptizer and Christ.
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First Reading: Isaiah 42:1–4,6–7
1 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, 2 Not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street. 3 A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench, 4 Until he establishes justice on the earth; the coastlands will wait for his teaching. 6 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, 7 To open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.
NOTES on First Reading:
* 42:1-4 This is the first of Isaiah’s Four Servant of the Lord Songs. The other three are 49:1-7; 50:4-11;52:13-53:12. All four of them are poems and are usually set as poetry in English translations as they are here in the NAB. Over the years many individuals and groups have been proposed for the role of the unnamed servant: historical Israel, ideal Israel, Old Testament historical characters before or during the lifetime of the prophet, the prophet himself. Christian tradition has always seen the fulfillment of these prophecies in Jesus Christ.
* 42:1 The spirit was promised to the messianic king in Isa 11:1 and to the entire messianic community in Joel 3. The New Testament interprets this as having occurred at the Baptism of Jesus, Mark 1:11 and the transfiguration, Matt 17:5.
* 42:2-3 The servant accomplishes his mission quietly. To cry out meant to be one in special need. He stands quiet and strong instead. Not breaking the bruised reed or quenching a smoldering wick is a reference to extraordinary mercy and respect for others. He even recognizes the strength in the weakness of others. The NAB omits the last part of verse 3,”he will introduce justice effectively” and the first part of verse 4, “he will never fail nor be discouraged” although the Jerusalem Bible leaves it in as do most of the translations that follow the Hebrew text rather than the Greek.
* 42:4 Coastlands was sometimes used for apostate Israelites scattered throughout the general population of Babylon. Often it referred to the lands of the Mediterranean or to the pagan lands of the west. In either case they are called to conversion.
* 42:5 This verse is skipped over in the reading as given above.
* 42:6 To be given “as a covenant to the people and a light to the nations” goes far beyond the realm of the office of any king, prophet, or priest in usual Old Testament usage. Here the grandeur of the promises speaks of an exceptional personage in the role of the servant.
* 42:7 People must recognize their blindness and imprisonment before they can be cured or freed. These ideas help to explain Isa 6:9-10.
Second Reading: Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7
11 For the grace of God has appeared, saving all 12 and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, 13 as we await the blessed hope, the appearance 3 of the glory of the great God and of our savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good. 15 Say these things. Exhort and correct with all authority. Let no one look down on you.
4 But when the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, 5 not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the holy Spirit, 6 whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior, 7 so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.
NOTES on Second Reading:
* 2:11-15 Underlying the admonitions for moral improvement in Titus 2:1-10 as the moving force is the constant appeal to God’s revelation of salvation in Christ, with its demand for transformation of life.
* 2:13 The blessed hope, the appearance: literally, “the blessed hope and appearance,” but the use of a single article in Greek strongly suggests an epexegetical, i.e., explanatory sense. Of the great God and of our savior Jesus Christ: another possible translation is “of our great God and savior Jesus Christ.”
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Second Reading: Acts 10:34–38
34 Then Peter proceeded to speak and said, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. 35 Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him. 36 You know the word (that) he sent to the Israelites as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all, 37 what has happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached, 38 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.
NOTES on Second Reading:
* 10:34-43 Peter’s speech to the household of Cornelius is probably fairly typical of early Christian preaching to Gentiles. For this speech Luke has taken material that was already part of the still young Christian tradition and reworked it to some extent. It is full of Luke’s universalist themes and language.
* 10:35 God’s choice of Israel to be the special people of God so that He might reveal Himself to the world did not mean that He withheld divine favor from all the other peoples of the earth. All peoples of the world are loved by God.
* 10:36-43 This speech has the ring of Luke speaking more directly to his Christian readers rather than Peter speaking to the household of Cornelius, as is indicated by the opening words, “You know.” The speech traces the continuity between the preaching and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth and the proclamation of Jesus by the early Christians. The emphasis on this divinely ordained continuity (Acts 10:41) is meant to assure Luke’s readers of the fidelity of Christian tradition to the words and deeds of Jesus.
* 10:38 The early church saw the ministry of Jesus as an integral part of God’s revelation. For this reason they were interested in conserving the historical substance of the ministry of Jesus. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit this tradition led to the writing and preservation of the four gospels. The passion and urgency in the tone of the remaining verses (up to 44) of this speech clearly show the depth of this desire to pass on the teaching of Jesus.
Gospel Reading: Luke 3:15-16,21-22
15 Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah. 16 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. 17 His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18 Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people. 19 Now Herod the tetrarch, who had been censured by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil deeds Herod had committed, 20 added still another to these by (also) putting John in prison. 21 After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened 22 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.”
NOTES on Gospel:
* 3:15 They were awaiting the arrival of the Messiah or anointed one who would be the agent of Yahweh and restore Israel.
* 3:16 By the early Christian community, the Spirit and fire were probably understood in the light of the fire symbolism of the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). For John and his preaching, however, the Spirit and fire are probably related to ideas of purifying and refining(Ezekiel 36:25-27; Malachi 3:2-3). John says that another is coming who will be more powerful in His ability to purify them (Holy Spirit and fire rather than water). Students were not permitted to unfasten the sandal strap of their teacher as it was the work of a slave. John claims to be unworthy to even claim the title of slave for the one who is coming.
* 3:17-20 These four verses are skipped in the reading. I include them here because they form a transition in the narrative of Luke’s Gospel.
* 3:17 He will separate the good from evil like the winnowing fork separated the fruitful from the chaff. This language along with that of 3:7 and 3:9 is probably a fair portrayal of John and may explain his questions in 7:18-23 when he sees Jesus separating good from evil in a much less dramatic manner.
* 3:18 Luke identifies the messages of John and Jesus as so similar that he considers John as starting the preaching of the Good News which Jesus will complete.
* 3:19-20 One explanation of these two verses is that Luke inserts this report of John’s imprisonment in order to separate the ministry of John the Baptist from that of Jesus. It is literary device used by Luke to emphasize his understanding of the periods of salvation history: 1. The time of promise, the period of Israel, comes to an end with the work of John the Baptist; 2. The time of fulfillment, the period of Jesus, begins with the baptism of Jesus and the descent of the Spirit upon him; 3. The period of the church, Luke’s third epoch of salvation history is begun in the Acts of the Apostles (also by Luke).
Another suggested explanation is that Luke’s literary style is to always remove one character from the scene of his gospel before introducing a new one into the action. Here Luke removes John before beginning to follow the actions of Jesus in the rest of the story. The events that befell John foreshadow the future of Jesus who is about to preach the same message.
* 3:21-22 Luke focuses on the heavenly message identifying Jesus as Son. He alludes to Isaiah 42:1 and thus identifies Him as “the” Servant of Yahweh. Jesus’ relationship to the Father has already been announced in the infancy narrative (Luke 1:32,35; 2:49); it occurs here at the beginning of Jesus’ Galilean ministry and will reappear in Luke 9:35 before the travel narrative of Luke’s gospel. Later (Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38) Luke will interpret this incident as a type of anointing of Jesus.
* 3:21 Luke is the only one of the gospel writers to tell us that Jesus was praying when the Holy Spirit came down upon Him. Prayer is to be an important element in Luke’s portrait of Jesus who will be shown at prayer in all of the important points of His ministry.
* 3:22 Luke takes the Jewish simile of a “dovelike descent” found in Mark and turns it into an Hellenistic “dovelike form”. The emphasize is on the dove as a symbol of the hopes and promises of God that are to be realized in Jesus. Jesus does not become something that He was not before or even get something that He did not have before. What does happen is that Jesus is revealed again and in a different way to be who He is in order to begin a new phase of His mission. </FONT
Scripture text: New American Bible with revised New Testament copyright © 1986,1970, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.
Vince Del Greco
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (1990) (Eds. Brown, Fitzmyer & Murphy)