Monday, 3 January 2011

The Baptism of the Lord - Year A

Isaiah 42:1-4.6-7; Acts 10:34-38; Matthew 3:13-17

No single word or line of the Old or New Testament can tell us all we need to know about Jesus. That would be like saying we can sum a person up in a word or sentence. The best we can do with a few words is give someone a label. For Jesus we might say Redeemer, Saviour, Son of God, or Word of God, but this does not exhaust his identity. These titles are merely doorways into the mystery of a God who chose to come among us as a man.

The revelation of who Jesus is comes to us through the Church in Scripture and the living Tradition. St Jerome claimed that ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ, and we might add that ignorance of the Tradition is also ignorance of Christ. And ignorance of Christ is, unavoidably, ignorance of God.

In order to know Christ we must immerse ourselves in both Scripture and Tradition.

To know Christ! This is the greatest joy we can experience; it is heaven. And eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.(Jn 17:3) To know Christ is the aspiration of all our longing and prayer and good works. It is, in fact, the purpose of our life.

Pope Benedict’s recent exhortation Verbum Domini refers to Sacred Scripture as a divine pedagogy. This is a very helpful phrase. It means that in the Sacred Scripture God teaches us about himself. The entire Scripture is a great big lesson on God.

God’s teaching is contained in his wonderful act of creation, in the history of the Chosen People, in the history of mankind, and in the words of the prophets. That is why we always read from the Old Testament as well as the New Testament at each Sunday Mass. God’s divine pedagogy, begun in the Old Testament, comes to completion in the New, in Jesus, the Word made flesh, who came to accomplish the Father’s will and so redeem us.

Perhaps now we can understand more clearly how essential it is for a Christian to know the Scriptures. It’s not an optional extra for people who are ‘inclined that way’, it is an essential prerequisite for knowing the God we profess to worship.

The first reading from Isaiah claims our attention immediately. The words are inspired by God: Thus says the Lord; Here is my servant… . The divine pedagogy continues, adding brushstroke after brushstroke to the portrait of the mysterious figure of the Messiah.

The One who is to come is a servant; he has come to serve. Above all and firstly, Jesus is the servant of the Father: I have come from heaven, not to do my own will, but to do the will of the one who sent me. (Jn 6:38) Jesus did not choose to come, he was chosen and sent. To be sent means that we have some service to perform.

Jesus came also to serve us. He came to set us free from sin and, in a few weeks, as we see Jesus hanging on the Cross groaning under the weight of our sins we will clearly see how he is truly a servant – washing us clean in his own servant blood.

Isaiah expresses the service of Jesus another way. He mentions three times that he is sent to bring true justice to the nations. No wonder his coming caused such upheaval. Jesus is himself the true justice he brings to the world. He is the truly just man. No wonder so many saw him as a revolutionary upsetting the established order of things. Could you live with such a man?

No wonder Jesus is the delight of his Father’s heart: No sculpture or painting can capture this beauty because it is a beauty within: Without beauty, without majesty (we saw him), no looks to attract our eyes, says Isaiah in another place. (Isa 53:2) The Father contemplates his Son – endlessly, joyfully. The face of Jesus is the face of his chosen one in whom his soul delights.

Jesus is delightful to his Father’s heart because the Father has endowed him with his own Spirit. Jesus is the work of the Father through the Spirit which ‘upholds’ Jesus. The Father looks beyond the physical face of Jesus into his inner depths and sees there all the beauty that He Himself is, the beauty of God.

Jesus speaks with the voice of God and acts in the same way that God acts. The Father Himself goes on to explain this through the prophet Isaiah: He does not cry out or shout aloud, or make his voice heard in the streets.

Jesus is a man of gentleness and peace. He is not noisy and aggressive, self-assertive, domineering. He is a man of humility and meekness: He does not break the crushed reed, nor quench the wavering flame. No one would be frightened of him, no one would run from him. He is a man of deep respect for and patience with others; always ready to wait for their response to his love.

He has come to open the eyes of the blind, to free captives from prison, and those who live in darkness from the dungeon. How wonderful he is! He never grows tired of our weakness or our failures. He never turns his back on us. He seeks to liberate us from the consequences of our sins.

Today God the Father himself presents his Son to the world: As soon as Jesus was baptised he came up from the water, and suddenly the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on him. And a voice spoke from heaven, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on him.’

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