We begin our reflection on the baptism of the Lord by reading Isaiah’s poetic description of the Messiah. “I, the Lord, formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.” Through this image of the Messiah, Isaiah casts the light of hope on the world’s suffering, poor and oppressed.
Then, we move on to the testimony Peter gave to Cornelius and his household. It’s so simple we may overlook its importance. His testimony is a short creed. “You know… what has happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” Peter is taking Isaiah’s description of the Messiah and placing it into the ordinary course of life. Jesus moved through the society of his day lifting suffering by doing good and healing. The Holy Spirit was with him as he ministered and God’s power flowed from him.
The Gospel reading gives us Matthew’s account of the event. It begins with a wonderful dialogue between Jesus and John the Baptist. Jesus had come from Galilee with the specific purpose of going through the ritual bathing that John had initiated. He asked people to convert – to turn their hearts to God and confess their sins. Submerging themselves into the Jordan, the penitents symbolically washed away their sins. They were then ready to step into the new, Messianic Time.
John didn’t want to baptize Jesus. He protested saying that Jesus should baptize him! Jesus told him to “allow it for now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus was telling John that he wasn’t detaching himself from the world, no matter how dark and sinful it was. His mission was to purify and heal the world from within. Saint Paul put it this way in his second letter to the Christians in Corinth. “Christ was without sin, but for our sake God made him share our sin in order that in union with him we might share the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Matthew then shares with us the powerful event that occurred within Jesus as he came up out of the water. “The heavens were opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him.” As he emerged he was overshadowed by the power of the Holy Spirit and anointed by the Father. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Jesus went into the water wrapped in the world’s darkness; he emerged anointed and strengthened for his mission to bring God’s healing light to the world. With this event, Matthew begins his Gospel, the Good News that God’s loves each and every one of us good and bad alike. The world’s healing has begun through Jesus. His ministry will continue through us, his disciples. Matthew reminds us of this event in the last sentences of his Gospel.
“Go then, to all peoples everywhere, and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age.”