Baptism Makes Us Sons and Daughters of the Father
User’s Guide to Sunday, Jan. 10
Sunday, Jan. 10, is the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Mass Readings: Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 29:1-4, 9-10; Acts of the Apostles 10:34-38; Mark 1:7-11.
The last words of today’s Gospel are “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” They echo Isaiah, who says in the first reading, “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased.” This servant from Isaiah is “not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street.”
This is distinctly different than another of the Lord’s servants mentioned just two chapters earlier in Isaiah. This other servant of God is a voice who “proclaims: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord!” This servant cries out loud in the streets and says, “Do not fear,” and “Here is your God!” (Isaiah 40:6-9).
These two servants spoken of so closely to each other in Isaiah are the subject of today’s Gospel. St. Mark tells us in a previous passage that the servant crying out in the wilderness is St. John the Baptist. Today, we hear the Baptist say that the one coming after him is “mightier” than he. Then Jesus arrives on the banks of the Jordan, presents himself to St. John and is baptized. Rising out of the water, Jesus hears the words “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased,” those very words from Isaiah.
The readings chosen by the Church today celebrating the Baptism of the Lord tell us that this is a moment planned for and prophesied by Isaiah some seven centuries prior. Its importance depends in part on what we learn in the second reading. In it, St. Peter is speaking to Cornelius, a Roman centurion who lives in Caesarea. Just prior to today’s reading in the Acts of the Apostles, we learn that Cornelius had requested that Peter visit him because, four days before, Jesus appeared to him at “three o’clock in the afternoon” and told him to summon Peter to his home (Acts 10:19-33).
St. Peter, upon hearing this story, says in today’s reading that, “in truth, I see that God shows no partiality.” He means that Jesus’ appearance to a Roman, of all people, is proof that, as he says, “in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” And this is because while Jesus was “sent to the Israelites” at first, he is meant for the whole world.
The Baptism of Jesus, this encounter between the two servants mentioned in Isaiah, was prophesied so long ago because it is a crucial step in the Father’s desire to bring all of humanity closer to himself. This Baptism is the start of Our Lord’s ministry to the whole world steeped in sin. It is as though the Sinless One, by entering into the Jordan River, where all the others had come to wash away their sins, takes up our whole humanity as he prepares to redeem all of us.
And precisely because he did not require baptism, by submitting himself to it, Jesus takes up our cause; and with it, he starts his earthly ministry. Let us rejoice today, then, in Jesus’ saving obedience to the Father’s will, which establishes the sacrament of baptism, making us all sons and daughters of the Father whom we, too, hope to please.