The Baptism of the Lord
The Commissioning of Jesus
Today’s feast of Our Lord’s Baptism brings Christmas season to its end, but Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism gives us a beginning, a ‘commissioning’. “This is my beloved Son.” A lovely description says these words are ‘a daughter of a voice’, that is, an echo of a word spoken in heaven.
This daughter of a voice is often taken to mean the revelation of Jesus as the uniquely loved and chosen by the Father. But Fr. John R. Donahue, SJ, explores these words spoken from heaven at Jesus’ Baptism as the commissioning of Jesus. Both Mark and Luke say, ‘You are my beloved Son’, so is a slight difference from Matthew’s, “This is my beloved Son”. In this difference Fr. Donahue hears a presentation and commissioning rather than the words of the intimate love between Father and Son. How does he come to hear this and what does it mean for us?
In the first reading from Isaias the Church understands Jesus to be the one who will “establish justice upon the earth” (Is. 42:4). God speaks to Israel through the prophet saying, I have grasped you by the hand, I formed you, and I set you as a covenant, a light for the nations. Israel is in exile, but God loves them so much, that rather than being angry with them God approaches them with gentleness. God reaches out to take the hand of Israel and pulls them from darkness and despair into God’s own light and hope.
A tiny spark or smouldering ash will flare up and become the new ardent fire of love. Humble, broken, fragile Israel will open the eyes of the blind, free prisoners, lead those hidden in dungeons out of darkness. Isaiah tells Israel they are: uniquely loved and chosen. The one who does this is a suffering servant.
“I have called you for the victory of Justice”. Jesus continues the mission of the suffering servant of Isaias. He will show us how to be just before God and with one another. This is my Beloved Son being sent now to speak and bring to life the parable of the last judgment that Matthew gives at the end of his gospel: come blessed of my Father to receive your reward, for what you have done to the least, for the suffering, and to those on the margins, you have done to me.
I recently took part in a discussion where each person was asked to name where they encountered people on the margins. My response was ‘when celebrating Baptism’. Often a parent or both parents present their child to be baptized with fear and trembling. They are uncomfortable and unfamiliar with the church, a marriage irregularity or no marriage is usual, there is a fear of the unknown – what do we need to do now that we are here? Will we encounter anger or be yelled at? It is so sad that such a beautiful moment is lost. Or maybe and hopefully it is a beginning, a life-giving moment, not only for the child baptized. Parents and godparents, the community, we are commissioned to renew our lives and faith in the mystery of Gods’ grace. To us is the child’s baptismal candle entrusted so it will be kept burning brightly and this child can go forth in life as a child of light, alive with everlasting life.
With Matthew may we celebrate Jesus’ commissioning by remembering our own commissioning. Let us give our beloved daughters and sons the grace of faith, with them love as Christ those on the margins and share light and Good News, and to be suffering servants working to establish justice on our earth. We are the adopted sons and daughters of God, other Christs, who share Jesus’ commission.
Fr. William Murphy, CP is a member of Immaculate Conception Community in Jamaica, New York.