Liturgically we move quickly through the first thirty years of the life of Jesus. With this feast we begin watching his maturity; the Timeless comes of age. Our maturation has taken somewhat longer in time.
We can prepare for our celebration of this feast by looking compassionately at the long road of days; we have walked into our self-awareness and graceful acceptance. There were beginnings in Jesus’ life which we have just celebrated. There were beginnings of our faith-walk as well. Perhaps we grew up as did Jesus growing in age and wisdom before God and others. He had gone down from the Temple in Jerusalem and lived obediently within His family. We may not have been that receptive to our conditions of early life. We can pray with how we came to see the wisdom of parents, grandparents, friends and spouses as God’s ways of inviting us to life.
Mature persons show up for the challenges, for the riots and confusions within relationships and mysteries. We can pray gratefully for how our decisions have aged us in grace as well as years.
The nation Israel is often referred to scripturally as “Servant”. What we hear in today’s First Reading is more specific and announces an individual with certain characteristics. The person will have the qualities of a prophet, but there is the beginning of the sketch that describes the Messiah.
We hear that this person is chosen by God and pleasing to God. He will have God’s spirit upon him and this will result in a quiet gentleness, not shouting out. He will be neither ruthless nor violent, but live toward the kingdom of justice.
The second section of this “Servant Song” (this is the first of four in Isaiah), presents something radically new. This Servant will begin to extend the “light” of his teachings to other nations, “the coastlands”. This mission of unblinding, opening ears and freeing captives is more than something physically. The light is the universal love of the God of Israel, the God of the Covenants of which other nations and peoples have not seen, not heard. They will be freed from the imprisonment of ignorance and fear. God is extending the divine covenant beyond Israel’s boundaries and this chosen person will begin the incarnate embrace.
Most ancient cultures and tribes had and still have rites of initiation having to do either with fire or water. Purification was one reason for the two elements. One entering the community would need to be purified from living elsewhere and else wise. Then the rites would also welcome the initiate into the spirit and ways of the community. Jesus stands at the bank of the Jordan having heard of John’s preaching and moral-purifying ritual of baptism. The two meet in midstream and have an important little discussion. Jesus, according to Matthew’s version, desires that John fulfill the Law by completing the righteousness prescribed in the Law. It will be the ending of the beginning. Jesus has done all things well according to His Jewish tradition. He stands in the waters remembering how all of the Jewish nation marched through the waters from slavery into becoming one nation under God. Jesus is welcomed into His maturity as a Jewish Man. He leaves the waters to continue the Epiphany which event is unique to Matthew. Jesus is the Light of the Nations Who is pleasing to God and sent beyond the boundaries of Israel. The spirit or breath of God which hovered over the waters in the Genesis account of creation now spreads over Jesus as He begins the enlightening mission of the final act of God’s recreating and redeeming that world.
I had the honor of baptizing a friend of ours into the Catholic community a few years ago. One of his friends, immediately after the ceremony, commented, “If you were to die right now, woop, right into heaven; knowing you, tomorrow, I am not so sure.” We can think of this sacrament solely in terms of being freed from Original Sin. This is only the beginning. I belong! We belong to God through our being purified from living according to other ways. There is much more than purification to this entering rite.
As young Jesuits we were reminded often that we were never, not on mission. This is not a little Jesuit dictum. The major import of this blessing, this Sacrament of beginnings, is that we all enter into Christ’s being the “Beloved” and the “light” to the nations. We are never, not on mission. The light has no switch, no lid, no energy let-down. Obviously we can refuse to share that light, but it is always within us by God’s choosing.
There is a purifying by water, but an enlightening by the Spirit Who urges us beyond our boundaries, beyond the familiar, beyond our designs of comfort. Our natural lives go into the waters and begin a rebirth to shine our lights in the same direction as those of Jesus. He began going public by becoming obedient to His true identity. Each of us is oriented by the Sacrament of Baptism and encouraged through the experiencing of the other sacraments, to go public; not shouting out, not crushing the bent reed, not showing off, but showing up for the opportunities of continuing the recreation of God’s earth and God’s family.
“This is He of Whom John said- I have seen and have given witness that this is the Son of God.” John 1, 32
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