08 January 2011

In Baptismate Domini

First Reading, Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
In the twelfth chapter of Saint Matthew's Gospel is found the fulfillment of this prophecy from Isaiah concerning the Messiah. In fact, this Reading is used in that chapter to show that Christ has indeed fulfilled it. Generally, whenever the word "nations" is used in most modern translations, the older texts translate as "Gentiles". And so, the Messiah prophesied here shall bring forth justice to the Gentiles; and justice means moral and religious discernment and knowledge of right and wrong which is an attribute of the Messiah. In the older translations of prophecy the interpreters tend to approach the Scriptures with a pre-Messianic mindset, and thus the reader will read that God's plan of salvation will include both Jews and Gentiles. The more modern translations use the word "nations" to express a point of view from the post-Resurrection age to show that there is no longer any distinction between Jew and Gentile. It is because of Christ's humble humanity that He is called a Servant. "The coastlands will wait for his teaching" in the Latin Vulgate translates as, "The islands shall wait for his law" while the Septuagint translates as, "The Gentiles shall hope in his name." From the verse, "I, the Lord, have called you…" to the end of this Reading seems to be an addition which came later and is probably not from the original author. These closing verses show that the Messiah's mission is ordained by God, in which He will be set as a covenant of the people -- all people, and a Light for the nations -- all nations. Christ healed those who were physically blind but most likely the blindness in this Reading refers to spiritual blindness in which many were imprisoned and in darkness because of a lack of spirituality and an obsession for material wealth. Beyond the interpretation of Jesus as the Messiah, this Reading also invites us as individuals to reflect on our own baptism. In baptism the soul hears the Voice of God saying: "Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put My Spirit." How faithful have I been to that calling to be a servant of God? How committed am I to pleasing Him? Am I a holy temple in which His Spirit can dwell?

Second Reading, Acts 10:34-38
Cornelius was a centurion who was very devout and believed in Israel's God. Peter's speech is the first recorded address to Gentiles. Peter publicly states that all nations and all peoples who act uprightly are acceptable to God. Observance of the Mosaic Law is not a prerequisite for belonging to God. The Greek is a little unclear as to whether the word that God sent to the Israelites is referring to Jesus Christ, the eternal "Word", or the "word" meaning Christ's teachings and/or the Gospel. Most translations accept it to mean the latter; although the peace proclaimed through Jesus Christ could not have been proclaimed by anyone else because Jesus is the Source of true peace. Peter proclaims Christ as "Lord of all" which is proof of His Divinity. Peter continues by stating that the Jesus story began after the baptism that John preached which is an acceptance of John the Baptist's ministry and a belief that John was part of a divine plan. God anointed Jesus' Human Nature with the graces of the Holy Spirit so that He may begin His public Ministry as the Messiah.

Gospel, Saint Matthew 3:13-17
Do you think you would have a few butterflies in your stomach if you were called to baptize Jesus Christ? What tasks have you done in your life in which you felt overwhelmed and were forced to step out of your comfort zone? Whenever we find ourselves in those uncomfortable situations, it's only natural to paraphrase John the Baptist by saying something like: "Lord, what are You thinking? I can't do this!" In this Gospel, you might be asking yourself why Jesus needs to be baptized. Why does a sinless God-Man and the very Essence of innocence need to be baptized? The Holy Fathers dealt with that question and answered it by stating that Jesus wanted to sanction the baptism and ministry of Saint John the Baptist, to take that opportunity to teach humility among sinners, and lastly to sanctify the waters and give them the virtue of cleansing humanity from their sins by the laver of baptism. John already knows that Jesus is the Messiah and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove is an emblem of Christ's meekness and innocence. The Voice of the Father identifies Jesus as His own beloved Son. At this moment God reveals Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Think about this Gospel the next time you witness a baptism. Human eyes can't detect the Holy Spirit descending upon the newly baptized but it does occur. And human ears can't hear the Voice of the Father saying: "This is My beloved son/daughter, with whom I am well pleased" but Scripture intimates that it does happen. And let's not forget that the newly baptized are now and forever the brother or sister of Jesus Christ and a child of God the Father. Baptism is an investiture for our heroic calling as children of God. And yes, perhaps God does ask us to do things that take us out of our comfort zone; but if we dive deep into this Gospel to seek other interpretations, what might be revealed here is that we're never alone. In fact, it is Christ working through us Who allows only Himself to be immersed into the deep while sparing us by keeping our heads afloat. With deep devotion to Christ, like John the Baptist we can say: "Lord I should be the one doing this, the one who deserves these difficult situations." And Jesus will answer: "Allow Me, the Lord of all." And by following His wishes we allow Him to be the One Who handles the brunt of those uncomfortable circumstances, those moments when we have stepped out into unexplored territory. "God is faithful and will not allow you to be tried beyond your strength" (1 Corinthians 10:13).