The Baptism of the Lord
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7 or Isaiah 55:1-11
Psalms 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10
Reflection Question: Who do we seek in these troubled times?
The last year has been hard--so very hard for so many--and particularly so in these last several weeks and days. It has been painfully apparent as news stories flash across our televisions and notifications pop up on our smartphones. I don't need to give the details because it's been difficult to avoid. As you watch, you might be afraid, angry, or even ready to just "check out" to get away from it all--or some combination of all three.
This kind of civil uneasiness, even civil unrest, is nothing new; it peppers the pages of our history books. In those times, people usually seek out a leader. Sometimes this is the chest-thumping strong man, in others it is the dignified orator, or the keen tactician, or the isolationist who will just seek to remove us from the troubles. But for us as Christians, who should we seek? Who should we look for to lead us? Who should we look for to bring peace?
In our First Reading this weekend, taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, God paints a portrait of the kind of leader who He is seeking--the one who will be His Servant:
he shall bring forth justice to the nations,
not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
a bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
until he establishes justice on the earth;
This Servant-leader sent by God is marked by two things: His incredible duty to the righteous justice of God, and His strength through incredible gentleness. Bruised reeds and smoldering wicks are fragile things, on the verge of being destroyed--and they represent the kind of people this Servant will be sent to encounter and to save. He is sent to the people who are weak, afraid, frustrated, and forgotten all up and down the ages—from the people in Isaiah’s time all the way to us. The justice He brings is God's righteous justice--a justice that seeks to restore those that are broken and downtrodden and to reach out to those that are lost.
When it was time for Jesus to arrive on the public scene, His world had already seen plenty of unrest. It had seen prophets rebuking corrupt leaders, conquests and rule by foreign kings, revolts seeking freedom, political machinations by various factions, and strong men who claimed to be God's promised Messiah--political saviors claiming to be the ones who could finally set everything right. But none of them could.
When God's Spirit came to rest, it rested upon only one person: on Jesus, His only-Begotten Son, on the day of His baptism. The Father reaffirmed this through His own voice: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” This anointing demonstrated His Mission from God, not to be the strong man or orator or politician, but to be the strong Servant-leader spoken of by Isaiah.
We watch this play out in the Gospels. Never once does Jesus waver from what is truly right and just. Not once does He ever act with self-interest in mind. He speaks, but He also listens. He is quick to teach and to correct, but slow to condemn. He shows no partiality to groups or individuals. He can build solidarity with or rebuke or mediate between different groups and factions without ever casting his lot with any of them. He reaches out equally to the self-righteous Pharisee, the corrupt tax-collector, the foreigner, the outcast, and the sinner without consideration of His critics. He even does this for the Apostle who would later deny knowing Him and the one who would betray Him. On the Cross, he prayed for his enemies. To each and all, He looks and acts with the gaze of the love of God that seeks not to destroy, but to redeem and restore.
In every way, it exceeds mere justice; instead, Jesus also shows us compassion and mercy. And He does it in the midst of individual encounter—not shouting in the street, not even in the midst of His teaching the multitudes—but in a one-on-one encounter.
When we ask who we should seek to bring us peace, first and foremost we should seek Jesus. This is no mere platitude to make us feel better--choosing to allow Jesus to reign in our hearts and our lives leads us to have peace, at least for ourselves. We look upon the lives of so many Saints who have gone before us, who endured troubled times themselves. Some became leaders, but all let Jesus into that privileged place in their hearts. When they did this they were transformed, they became like Him--they embodied justice and compassion. They embodied this genuine loving interest in each individual person they encountered. In a word, they became holy.
As unique as Jesus is, His Mission is not unique. The Baptism of Jesus is a model for us, and a model of our own Baptism. When each of us was baptized, we were baptized into the Death and Resurrection of Jesus--we were baptized into new life through Him. There was no dove and no voice from the heavens, but the Holy Spirit did descend on us and the Father also looked upon each of us to say “You are my beloved child; with you I am well pleased.” We are called to be sharers in His Mission in this world--to allow ourselves to be transformed so that others can see Jesus and His work in our own. We would do well to remember this incredible love God has for each of us and the dignity given to us because He can say “This is my beloved child.”
Who is it that we should seek? Seek Jesus, but also seek out those who are allowing themselves to be transformed by following His example. Seek out the people whose actions, especially toward the weak and the marginalized and the downtrodden most imitate the actions of Jesus—in other words, seek those who are striving to become holy—and as you do that allow yourself to become holy too.
By: Father Matthew J. Morelli, Pastor, Church of the Good Shepherd, Kent