The Baptism of the Lord – January 8, 2023
Lectionary Readings: Isa. 42:1-4.6-7; Ps.28:1-4.9-10.11; Acts. 10:34-38; Matt. 3:13-17
Theme: Jesus made manifest as savior
Today’s Gospel on the baptism of the Lord has raised the question on why Jesus came to Jordan to be baptized when he is sinless. This is mainly because baptism then and now has been associated with the forgiveness of sins. The people of Jerusalem and Judea who went to the Jordan River to be baptized by John were confessing their sins. And John said: “I am baptizing you with water for repentance.” (Matt. 3:6. 11). Likewise, today when we profess our faith and recite the Nicene Creed during mass, we say: “I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sin.”
I think that we can get some answers to this somewhat hard theological and Christological question on why Jesus participated in the rite for sinners from the Gospel reading itself. We read that after Jesus was baptized and came up from the water, “the heavens were opened (for him) and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove coming upon him.” And there was a voice from the heavens, implying that the baptism had the approval of the heavens, according to Turner (2008).
Harrington (2007) says that these images show “the opening up of communication between God and humankind” as shown in the Hebrew Scriptures. The images prepare for the identification of Jesus as God’s Son before the start of his public ministry.
Ezekiel tells us that the heavens were opened, and he saw visions of God (Ez. 1:1). The descending of the Spirit of God like a dove evokes an image from the creation account, like that of a spirit or a wind from God sweeping over the face of the waters (Gen. 1:2). After David was anointed with oil by Samuel, “the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David.” (1 Sam. 16:13). In talking about his mission Isaiah says: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,” etc. (Isaiah 16:1). The Hebrew Scriptures tell us that the presence of the Spirit of God implies an anointing of kings, priests and prophets for consecrated divine service.
Harrington says that the phrase “a voice from the heavens” may reflect or be connected with the rabbinic bat qol (a daughter of a voice) like an echo of a word uttered in heaven. The bat qol says, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3: 17). The heavenly voice combines phrases from the Hebrew Scriptures: “my son” (Ps. 2:7 with the Davidic king as the adopted son of God); “beloved” (Gen. 22:2 to refer to Isaac); and “with whom I am well pleased” (Isa. 42:1, 44:2 to refer to God’s Servant). Jesus is identified in terms of prominent Biblical figures: Son of God, Isaac and God’s Servant. In all, combining the three images, Jesus is identified as the anointed one (the messiah in Hebrew; the Christ in Greek), the Son of God consecrated to a divine mission to be the savior of all.
Jesus told John when he hesitated to baptize Jesus: “Let it be for now. For it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” I take it that baptism was something to be done even if Jesus was sinless to fulfill his mission – to teach us the way to the Father, suffering and dying for our sins, to save us.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. What does your baptism mean to you today? 2. What are ways you can carry out the mission to baptize in Jesus’ name (Matt. 28:19)?
Bibliography: Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew (Michigan, 2007); Turner, Matthew: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Michigan, 2008).
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Minerva Generalao, Philippines, Bat Kol Alumna July 2014