Monday, January 5, 2015

Baptism of the Lord - January 11, 2015

First Reading Commentary
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?  These are questions worth reflecting on as we try to get closer to God. 

Second Reading Commentary
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 text 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 Commentary
The depths of the waters are not our natural habitat. We cannot breathe there; and if there for too long we will struggle and fight for our natural life. Saint Gregory Nazianzen explains that: “John baptizes, Jesus comes to him perhaps to sanctify the Baptist, but certainly to bury the whole of the old Adam in the water” (Oratio XXXIX, In Sancta Lumina). The man of sin, the man of eternal death is buried in the depths of the waters by the God Who became Man to restore man to his dignity, to his destiny of eternal life, his Paradise. In this natural struggle below the surface of the waters, we get a glimpse at the possibility of our death; we enter a state of panic, we stare at our own weakness, our own helplessness. The words of Jesus echo in our heart and soul: “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). And when those words of our Lord are realized to be truer than true, the words of the psalmist come to the forefront: “Out of the depths I cry to You, Lord” (Psalm 129 [130]:1). For in the depths of the waters we cannot speak, but God hears the cries of the heart and soul, He hears our fearful silence.

In baptism we are freed from our inevitable doom and pulled from the depths of the waters by Jesus Christ through His minister; we rise from the depths with Christ. And it is then that we meet the Most Blessed Trinity: Christ Who saved us from eternal death by pulling us out of the depths to a new life, a life that is eternal; the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove unseen by human eyes, but present nevertheless, Who descends upon us, saves us, and seals us as God’s very own; and finally the Voice of the Father, undetected by human ears, but nevertheless speaking those mysterious, incomprehensible words: “This is My beloved” (Matthew 3:17). It is perhaps foretold by the psalmist: "The Voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of majesty has thundered, the Lord is upon many waters. The Voice of the Lord is in power; the Voice of the Lord in magnificence" (Psalm 28 [29]:3-4). As unfathomable as those words are, may they speak within us every time we reflect on our own baptism, every time we witness a baptism, every time we try to understand our own royal dignity. It is no easier for the psalmist to grasp our filial relationship with our God as he writes: “What is man, that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that You visit him? You have made him a little less than the angels, You have crowned him with glory and honor; and have set him over the works of your hands. You have subjected all things under his feet” (Psalm 8:5-8). In the Old Testament, there is a story of a baby which perhaps points us to that day of our own glorious baptism. That baby the world would come to know as Moses. As he was floating down the river in a basket he was seen by Pharaoh’s daughter. She took the baby and as the Scripture continues: “She adopted him for a son and called him Moses, saying, ‘Because I took him out of the water’” (Exodus 2:10).

Nicholas Cabasilus, a fourteenth century Byzantine theologian and mystic wrote: “We cannot lift ourselves up to God by our means, thus He came down to meet us. We were not looking for Him but He wanted us. The sheep did not seek the Shepherd, nor did the lost coin search for the Master of the house. It was He Who came to the earth and retrieved His own image. He came to where the sheep were straying and lifted them up. God made us heavenly while yet remaining on earth and imparted to us the heavenly life without leading us up to heaven, but instead bending heaven down to us.”

Christ has saved us, He has defeated the enemy. And for a final reflection on baptism let us turn once again to the wisdom of the psalmist: “Our soul has passed through a torrent; perhaps our soul had passed through water insupportable. Blessed be the Lord Who has not given us to be a prey to their teeth. Our soul has been delivered as a sparrow out of the snare of the fowlers. The snare is broken and we are delivered. Our help is in the Name of the Lord Who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 123 [124]:5-8).