Sunday, January 3, 2016

Baptism of the Lord - January 10, 2016

First Reading Commentary (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?

First Reading Commentary (Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11)
In the opening verse the prophet Isaiah is referring to the end of Babylonian captivity and prophetically the coming of the Messiah.  The word “service” in the second sentence is somewhat sugar-coated; most translations opt for words like “evil” and “warfare”.  “Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!  Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.”  These words should turn our hearts and minds to the coming of the Messiah as these are the words that were proclaimed by Saint John the Baptist.  The verse that follows prophetically sets the scene of the Baptism of Christ as all who were present witnessed the glory of the Lord and heard the Voice of God say: “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” 
“Go up on to a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings; cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news!”  The word “mountain” is used here to symbolically show elevation like placing oneself upon a stage with the whole world as your audience.  The idea here is to give the image of making sure that everyone can see and hear the good news proclaimed concerning the coming of the Messiah Who is the Lord God, bringing His reward which is our salvation. 
The final verse is familiar and comforting as we see the tender side of our Savior Who feeds His flock with His own precious Body and Blood, gathering together His baptized family, carrying and leading us with care.
Second Reading Commentary (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 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.
Second Reading Commentary (Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7)
There is a difference of opinion among scholars whether Saint Paul is actually the author of the letter to Titus.  Those who believe he is the author believe so because the writing style is similar to the first letter to Timothy.  Those who think otherwise believe so because in the letter to Titus, Paul writes about departing from Titus and leaving him to care for the Church in Crete.  As far as we know, Paul has never visited Crete. 
The author of this Reading, regardless of who it is, describes the powerful weapon that love is.  It is love that is the driving force of the grace of God.  It is love that has saved us and continues to train us to reject godless ways.  It is God’s love for us that enables us to be baptized, receiving what this Reading calls the “bath of rebirth”, and becoming a part of God’s chosen family.  Love is the reason that Jesus gave Himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness.  This Reading reminds us that God’s love is given to us out of His kindness and generosity and not because of any righteous deeds we have done.  It is God’s loving grace that justifies us and makes us heirs of eternal life.  It is that simple, four letter word that has the power to do so many wonderful things and has already done miraculous things.  As recipients of so great a gift, it is love that compels us to also offer or share this divine gift to all those we meet.
Gospel Commentary
There are a handful of reasons why all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.  First of all, the circumstances leading up to John’s birth were a bit unusual: His mother Elizabeth was well past the age of being able to conceive; his father Zechariah was stricken and left unable to speak until after John’s birth; plus John’s style of preaching and his ability to attract followers.  There were also rumors floating around that the Messiah had indeed entered into the world because of the story of the Magi and the massacre of the Holy Innocents which occurred during John’s infancy.  All of these reasons were probably still imprinted on the minds of most of the people which led many to a logical conclusion that John indeed was the Christ. 
Receiving John’s baptism was a mere acceptance of what he preached; and what he preached was that there’s One Who is coming Who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.  Many who heard John’s words were baptized by him including Jesus.  Certainly Jesus was not in need of anyone’s baptism but He subjected Himself to it to teach humility and to take His place among sinful men and women even though He Himself was sinless. 
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “The Baptism of Jesus is on His part the acceptance and inauguration of His mission as God’s suffering Servant.  He allows Himself to be numbered among sinners; He is already ‘the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world’” (CCC 536). 
The Father expresses His approval of the Son with the words: “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.”  At baptism we become children of God.  Give some thought to your own baptism even if you were too young to remember it.  Did our heavenly Father express those very same words: “You are My beloved son/daughter; with you I am well pleased?”  John fulfilled the Lord’s work by reaching out to his fellow men and women; preaching tirelessly for their conversion. 
Jesus came to do the will of His heavenly Father because of His love for the Father.  Jesus took upon Himself the unbearable weight of our own guilty lives.  Both Jesus and John show us that love for God and love for humanity are never incompatible, but instead, always intertwined.  Saint Gregory Nazianzen advises us to venerate the Baptism of Christ and celebrate the feast honorably.  He exhorts us with these words: “Be cleansed so that you may be like lights in the world, a life-giving force to all others, and stand as perfect lights beside that great Light.”