First Reading Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
Psalm Psalm 29:1-4, 9-10
Second Reading Acts 10:34-38
Gospel Matthew 3:13-17
Gospel – Matthew 3:13-17
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Hearing the Word
“Fulfilling all Righteousness”
The baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of his mission of salvation which God set in motion in a distant past, and which Jesus will complete “fulfilling all righteousness”.
The first reading contains the first of the four Isaiah’s “servant songs”, which describe God’s ideal servant and a leader for his people. This first song describes him as a chosen one, pleasing and delightful to God. This leader acts with God’s power and executes God’s will thanks to God’s Spirit dwelling in him. The servant’s mission in a world filled with violence and oppression is to establish justice among the nations, which would bring what people needed most – peace and security. However, this leader would establish peace not by violence and brutality, which earthly kings frequently use to sustain their rule. God’s servant will be a gentle and supportive figure, sustaining and protecting rather than suppressing and destroying. His mode of action will be teaching and guidance, not war and violence. The servant will be faithful and determined, he will not rest until justice envelops the entire world. Speaking of “the coastlands” waiting for the servant’s teaching, Isaiah highlights that the hope for such a justice-bringing savior is not unique to the Israelites, but is common to all humanity.
Next, God addresses the servant directly with assurances and further clarification of his mission. Assurance comes with emphasis on God’s deliberate choice and unceasing presence with the servant who was “called, taken by the hand and kept” by God. The servant’s mission is then defined by two all-important biblical concepts, “righteousness” and “covenant”. In biblical language, righteousness implies being in the right relationship with God through obedience, loyalty and acting in accordance with God’s will. To be righteous means to be God’s loyal and obedient servant who carries out God’s work.
The covenant is a pact with which God bound himself to his people, promising to be their God who sustains and protects them. There are several covenants that God made with his people, but they all serve the same purpose best expressed in the book of Exodus, “I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians” (Exod 6:7). The covenant reveals God’s decision to call his people into existence and to be their savior whenever that existence comes under threat.
Consequently, God’s servant called in “righteousness” means that he would be a faithful agent of God, carrying our God’s purposes and will. Moreover, he himself is to become a covenant, which means that his person and mission will become the expression and fulfillment of God’s covenant intended for the salvation of God’s people. Thus, the righteous servant could be accurately called God’s agent in salvation.
The servant’s work of salvation consists in becoming a light to the nations, opening the eyes of the blind and releasing prisoners from darkness. This shows that Isaiah understands salvation as liberation from the chains of ignorance, and bringing people to the knowledge of God. The servant will teach the people about God’s ways, serving the cause of establishing justice in the world, which is the first step towards salvation.
The second reading describes what might be called “a converted Peter”. In the common understanding of the time, God’s covenant and salvation were intended primarily, if not exclusively, for the people of Israel. Peter certainly held such views. However, God led him to the house of Cornelius, a Gentile centurion, and to a new understanding of salvation, revealed in this speech. First, Peter referred to Jesus who was sent to the people of Israel, but who is in fact “the Lord of all”. Narrating the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Peter alludes to John’s baptism, and then specifically to the anointing of Jesus with the Holy Spirit. Anointing was performed on someone designated for a specific role and mission, such as a king or a priest. Peter stated that Jesus was anointed by God for a mission of “doing good” and liberating those oppressed by God’s enemy, the devil. He was a savior and a liberator. However, the main message of the passage lies in the change of Peter’s understanding of the scope of God’s salvation. Peter realized that it was intended for all humanity, not just a selected few, because God shows “no partiality”. Thus, Peter confirmed Isaiah’s vision of God’s servant as a savior for all people, and identified this promised servant as Jesus.
The Matthean account of Jesus’ baptism consists of two distinct parts. First, Jesus takes the initiative, approaching John the Baptist with the request for baptism. John, recognizing Jesus’ superior status, resits. John baptized people for repentance, which Jesus obviously did not require. Jesus convinced John stating that he did not come to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins but to “fulfill all righteousness”. As in the case of the servant described by Isaiah, Jesus’ mission is associated with righteousness. This implies that Jesus will be God’s obedient servant, faithfully carrying out his God-given mission. Why then baptism by John? The reason for this baptism appears to be the need to show continuity between the work of John the Baptist and the ministry of Jesus. As a part of God’s plan of salvation, John baptized people in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. Receiving John’s baptism, Jesus publicly declared that he will continue God’s salvific work, taking over from John. It is “righteous” for him to do so, because his mission was to bring God’s plan of salvation to completion.
In the second part of the Gospel, the initiative belongs to God. By receiving baptism, Jesus declared himself ready to begin his God-given mission. Responding, God opens the heavens and performs two acts. First, God sends his Spirit upon Jesus. Jesus is filled with the divine presence which will guide and empower him to complete his work. Second, God declares Jesus his beloved son. This confirms that Jesus has a unique relationship with God, a relationship rooted in God’s love for him.
Matthew’s description of Jesus’s baptism confirms that Jesus is God’s servant prophesied by Isaiah. As God’s servant Jesus acts with righteousness, taking up his mission as the Messiah. Like Isaiah’s servant, Jesus is filled with God’s Spirit and declared God’s beloved, that is, one in whom God delights. In his mission, Jesus will carry out God’s plan for salvation which has been set up from of old. He will fulfill God’s covenant with the peoples by bringing them to salvation.
Today’s liturgy identifies God’s Messiah and humanity’s Savior with Jesus, God’s righteous servant. Isaiah emphasized that God’s servant will be a teacher who will bring knowledge of God, and, acting in righteousness, establish justice and peace in the world. Peter came to understand that God sent Jesus as the savior whose mission would benefit all nations. Matthew showed that Jesus is the righteous servant prophesized by Isaiah, the one who will faithfully complete the work of salvation which God initiated in a distant past. This salvation could be described as leading the people from under the dominion of the forces of chaos and destruction, into a state of justice and harmony. Through his righteous servant, Jesus, God fulfills his covenant, triumphing over the forces of chaos. This indeed is the work of a Savior God who, according to the Psalmist, “sits enthroned over the flood”.
Listening to the Word of God
In the one big masterplan of God, different persons are chosen by God for different tasks. John the Baptist was entrusted with a specific task. He played his role so well that it would later be said of him, “among those born of women there is no one greater than John”.
As Jesus, the Word made flesh, enters into the narrative of salvation history, John fades into history, and prominence is given to Christ. In the exchange between John and Jesus at the Jordan, we see the heart of the savior of the human race – a servant leader par excellence. Undergoing a baptism meant for sinners, Jesus said to John, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” It was a statement expressive of his loyal and obedient disposition to carry out the Father’s plan. He had come as a servant to carry not his own will but the will of the One who sent him. In this regard, Jesus fulfils the prophecy of Isaiah as recounted in our first reading.
The baptism of Jesus activates the work of God for the salvation of his people. By allowing himself to be immersed in the waters meant for sinners, Jesus chose to “share in our humanity that we might share in his divinity.” In the person of Christ, God enters into a new covenant with us. It is the peak of all the chapters in salvation history.
We share in Christ’s mission of fulfilling righteousness in two ways. Firstly, we are called upon to respond to the initiative of God by allowing ourselves to be saved. God has made a generous offer by sending his only begotten son on a perilous rescue mission. To reject this offer is to resist righteousness. To choose to remain in “the darkness of sin and the night of unbelief” is to turn our backs on righteousness. It only ends in perdition. Our cooperation is needed to experience the eternal effects of the righteousness of Christ. St. Augustine is apt when he says, “God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us.” Therefore, it falls on us to consciously strive to receive and nurture the gift of salvation.
The second way by which we share in the mission of fulfilling righteousness is to replicate the salvific acts of Christ in every generation. Every Christian is called upon to be another Christ. We live no longer for ourselves, but for him who has saved us. This entails living our lives as loyal and obedient servants. As followers of Christ, we are called upon to reach out to those in the margins of society, those who count for nothing in the eyes of self-righteous people, and those that society has given up on. In the person of Christ, we have a mission to bring them all to the fountain of salvation.
Am I living to the full my own baptismal promises? Do I reject sin and strive for holiness on a daily basis?
Do I have a living relationship with Christ? How is it manifested?
Response to God
I choose to express my gratitude to God for the gift of salvation. I choose to sit before the cross or any other Christian icon that depicts the gift of salvation and allow my heart to well up with praise and gratitude to God. As I thank God, I commit myself to walk more faithfully on the path of righteousness.
Response to your World
Following reflection on today’s readings I will determine one particular way in which I can be righteous in my environment, and I will act accordingly.
We decide to embark on a simple outreach activity of proclaiming the love of God and his gift of salvation. We reach out particularly to those in our neighborhoods who do not as yet have any relationship with Christ.
Lord Jesus Christ, out of love for us, you chose to become like us in all things except sin. Moved by this gesture of love, I renounce sin and uphold righteousness. Amen