Sunday, January 11, 2009

This Is My Servant, My Chosen One, In Whom I Am Well Pleased.

Today marks the end of the Christmas season, and the beginning of a short period of “Ordinary Time” before Lent begins on Wednesday, February 25. It is not only the First Sunday in Ordinary Time, though; it is the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord.

In today’s First Reading, from the prophet Isaiah, we hear the Lord speak about “my servant, my chosen one, in whom I am well pleased”. In the prophetic books, we often hear the nation of Israel referred to as the “chosen people”, the “servant of the Lord”, but not here. This prophecy speaks about a particular individual who, from the womb, has been called for special ministry to the people of God. . His mission will be to establish justice on the earth; not only within the nation of Israel, but his teaching will be heard in the coastlands: From the Pillars of Hercules in the far west, to the Moorish country, Libya and Egypt to the south, Syria and Lebanon to the north, and westward again to Greece, Rome, the Greek colony at Massila (now Marseilles, in southern France) and back to Hispania and the northern pillar of Hercules, which we know as Gibraltar. He will preach the word of the Lord not with a loud voice, not with shouting, but with gentleness and patience. The Servant will reveal the true nature of the One who called him and sent him to speak to His people, gentle, kind, loving, and forgiving. He will release prisoners from confinement, open the eyes of the blind. He will be a light for all nations, and a covenant for all the people of the world.

It is in fulfillment of this prophesy that John the Baptist comes to the Jordan. As we saw during Advent, John’s mission is not so much to tell the people who he is, but rather, who he is not: I am not the one who is to come. Someone mightier then I will be coming after me. I am baptizing you with water, for the forgiveness of sins. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Then Jesus himself appears, and asks to be baptized by John. Jesus, of course, has no need to be purified, no sinfulness to be cleansed. But he is a son of Abraham, as well as the Son of God, and in the Jewish tradition, he enters the waters of the Jordan just as the nation of Israel began the process of its purification by entering the waters of the Red Sea during the Exodus. A new era in the relationship between God and His people begins when Jesus rises again from the waters. Jesus hears the divine designation, “You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”.

Both John and Jesus clearly know who they are and what they are doing. For most of us, a significant part of our identity is defined by what we do for a “living”. My father was a plumber, whose job it was to make sure that people in our home town had water to drink, to keep themselves and their clothes clean. When I was in my teens, I carried his tools around, but that didn’t make me a plumber. On the other hand, if you think about it, my own mission is to provide food in the Eucharist and cleansing in the Sacrament of Penance.

At our baptism, we begin the process of discovering what God calls us to do with our lives, what part we are to play in the story of salvation. This might be a good time to look back and try to find out what our mission has been in the past, and what it has become in the present. It might be interesting, even revealing, to write down all of the names and titles you have “gone by” over the years: Son, Brother, Godfather, Uncle, Friend; Student, Teacher; Minister of the Sacraments –Baptism, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Healing; Preacher of God’s Message by word – and by example; Binder and Looser of Marriage Bonds. That’s my list, what’s yours?

By looking back on these names and titles, we might learn that our mission in life is not really what we do, but who we are, and why we do what we do. Each one of us has been cleansed by the waters of baptism. All of us have been sent forth by the Spirit of God, as Mother Teresa used to say, “to do something good for God".

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