The Baptism of the Lord – 12 January 2020
Lectionary Readings: Isa 42:1-4, 6-7; Ps 29:1-4, 9-10; Acts 10:34-38; Matt 3:13-17
Theme: Bat Kol – Daughter of a Voice

The gospel reading this Sunday describes in human terms a divine experience of the baptism of Jesus, which is what the universal Church celebrates. According to the narration by Matthew, the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus like a dove when he came up out of the water (Matt 3:16).

This is also the day we celebrate the founding of Bat Kol Institute, now in existence for 36 years. Reflecting on this feast can be an act of renewal and even of transformation. Because of the Bat Kol (literally, daughter of a voice, Latin, vox Dei) a voice spoke from heaven, “This is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on him.” The Greek, ebaptiste, means to baptize, wash and dip. The Hebrew word, tevilah, has the same meaning, to dip, immerse. Tevilah has been a mitzvah for the Jewish community. Tevilah is done in a river or pool of living water that is called a mikveh. The act of tevilah was for the purpose of ritual purification, which symbolizes spiritual purification. A purifying bath was required to remove uncleanness caused by leprosy, discharge of semen, menstruation, childbirth or contact with a corpse (Lev 12:2; 15:1-13; Num 19:19). Jesus, who is Jewish, does not exempt himself from the Law. The focus of the baptisms done by John the Baptist was repentance: “I baptize you with water for repentance” (Matt 3:11). When Jesus was coming up out of the water the heavens were opened and the Spirit descended like a dove on him. The act of tevilah and the coming of the Spirit are connected.

A text from the Talmud reads: “Zeal leads to cleanliness, cleanliness to ritual purity, ritual purity to self-control, self-control to holiness, holiness to humility, humility to fear of sin, fear of sin to saintliness, and saintliness to the Holy Spirit” (Sotah, ix, 15) A well-known story in the Talmud tells of Rabbi Jose who went into one of the ruins in Jerusalem. While he was praying he heard a voice “I heard a divine voice, cooing like a dove, and saying: Woe to the children on account of whose sins I destroyed My house, burned My Temple and exiled them among the nations of the world.” And while Jesus was coming up out of the water, a dove came down on him and he heard a voice from heaven that said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on him.” The Tosefta (a collection of oral traditions related to Jewish oral law) says that after the minor prophets died Israel was “informed of the unknown by means of a Bat Kol.” “They were wont to make use of the Bat Kol“ (TB Megillah, 32a) which is represented in Jewish and Christian art as both a dove and as the hand of God. According to Martin Buber, the Voice of God penetrates the events in all our lives and all the events in the world. While the main purpose of the Bat Kol is to make known the Divine Will, she is an authoritative voice that does not just merely repeat Scripture but says something new.

For Reflection and Discussion: [1] Today we are reminded of the baptism of the Lord. When Jesus was baptized a voice came from the heaven. As we grow in years, how do we grow in the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, the Bat Kol? [2] We live in a world that is hurting. The Book of Isaiah says: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench.” (Isa 42:3) How can we reach out to our suffering brothers and sisters with the life-giving word of God?

Bibliography: McKenzie, J.L. Dictionary of the Bible (New York: 1965), Levine, A.-J., Brettler, M.Z. The Jewish Annotated New Testament (Oxford, 2017)

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