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JANUARY 13, 2013: BAPTISM OF JESUS

Readings: 

Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
Acts 10:34-38
Luke 3:15-16. 21-22

Probably most of us won't find out God's exact plan for us until we eventually meet God face to face. Yet, I presume the longer we live the more we catch glimpses of that plan. That appears to be the case with many of our biblical prophets.

The prophet's biblical call is always the last part of a prophetic book to be written.

Only after years of carrying out their God-given ministries are some of these special people able to make sense out of their work.

This certainly applies to Deutero-Isaiah. The first part of today's reading contains his initial reflection on his call. Referred to as the First Song of the Suffering Servant, it'll eventually be followed by two others, and end with a fourth reflection which his followers put together after his death. As in all such calls, there's something "generic." In this case, Deutero-Isaiah s called to be a prophet, someone who has Yahweh's spirit. But he's also called to exercise that ministry in a very unique way. Deutero-Isaiah's a prophet like none before him. He's not to imitate the "in-your-face" style which many of his prophetic predecessors employed. He doesn't cry out nor shout, doesn't make his voice heard in the street. He's extremely low key. And instead of withering his audience with his oracles, he tries to build them up. "A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench." But more important, the message he proclaims will reach far beyond the exiled Israelites he addresses. "He shall bring justice to the nations .... The coastlands will wait for his teaching." Nations and coastlands are Jewish words for non-Jews. His ministry will eventually provide faith insights to people who know nothing of the 613 laws of Moses. (I presume most of you who benefit from Isaiah 40-55 are Gentiles.) Deutero-Isaiah's words will affect more people than he could ever reach in his lifetime.

In a parallel way, the earliest followers of Jesus eventually began to understand that the reform of Judaism which he preached was reaching far beyond Judaism. That realization is one of the reasons Luke composed his Acts of the Apostles. He was trying to show how a religious movement which began 100% Jewish in the early 30s, was rapidly becoming 100% Gentile by the mid-80s. Of course, the evangelist presumes the hand of God played the decisive role in this unforeseen development, prompting Peter not only to go to the Gentile Cornelius' house but to eventually baptize everyone there. But it was far easier for Luke, writing almost 50 years after Peter's ministry, to understand the implications of Cornelius' conversion than it was for first generation Jewish Christians. (In Acts, Peter was later "called on the carpet" for his actions by the Jerusalem Christian "authorities.") It took a long time before almost everyone agreed with Peter's statement, "God shows no partiality."

Likewise, Luke's community would have understood the implications of Jesus' baptism in a far deeper way than those standing around the Galilean carpenter at the Jordan on the day it actually took place. Following Raymond Brown's lead, I remind you that scriptural annunciations are for the author's readers, not for the people who biblically receive them. Our sacred authors create annunciations to convey meaning which he or she have only surfaced after much reflection. When Luke's Jesus, for instance, hears the voice from heaven proclaim, "You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased!" it's important to remember that it's much easier for us to surface divinity in Jesus than it would have been for those who historically came into contact with him.

Perhaps one of the most anticipated rewards of getting into heaven just might be the discovery of what we were actually doing here on earth.