1st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle B)
THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD

Readings
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
Psalm 29:1-4, 9-10
Acts 10:34-38
Mark 1:7-11

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation). CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

The Liturgical Year: There are five Church seasons: Advent, Christmas, Lent, the Paschal Triduum (a three-day season), and Easter.  In addition there are two blocks of "Ordinary Time."
The Sundays of the major seasons of the Liturgical Year are distinguished by their relationship to the Solemnities of Christmas (Advent and Christmas) and Easter (Lent and Easter). The other parts of the year called Ordinary Time refer to all the Sundays of the year outside of the Christmas and Easter seasons which fall under the heading of celebrations of the "Day of the Lord." Ordinary time isn't a season; it is just a way to describe the weeks between seasons. The word "ordinary" means regular or plain but it also means "counted."  Ordinal numbers are 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and so on; this is the meaning of "Ordinary Time" since we count the weeks between the Church's seasons in ordinal numbers.

The weeks of Ordinary Time number thirty-three or thirty-four depending on the year and are divided into two parts of the liturgical year. The first part begins with the Sunday after Epiphany (although the first Sunday is perpetually impeded by the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord) and continues until Ash Wednesday. With the date of Easter varying every year, this first part of Ordinary Time may include as few as four weeks and as many as nine weeks.  Part II of Ordinary Time begins the day after Pentecost and continues to the Saturday before the 1st Sunday of Advent.

Each year during Ordinary Time we read through one of the Gospels. One year we read cycle A which concentrates on readings from the Gospel of St Matthew. The next year we turn to Cycle B which is St. Mark's Gospel, and the third year we focus on readings from St. Luke's Gospel until we repeat the cycle again.  God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy. The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: The Saving Waters of Christian Baptism
In today's Gospel reading, we remember Jesus' Baptism by St. John the Baptist in the waters of the Jordan River. The Gospels relate Jesus' baptism as another epiphany (manifestation) of Jesus as the promised Messiah, the "Chosen One" and "Servant" Son of God promised by the prophets (First Reading). It is the event in Scripture that presents for the first time the revelation of the Most Holy Trinity: the Holy Spirit descending from heaven in the form of a dove, God the Father's voice from heaven, and Jesus who is identified by the divine voice as God the Son (Mt 3:16-17; Mk 1:12-13; Lk 4:21-22).

Jesus has given us the Sacrament of Baptism to renew our souls by imparting to the baptized a new life for a covenant relationship as re-born sons and daughters of the Almighty (Mt 28:19-20; Jn 3:3-5). For those who are baptized by water and the Spirit, the waters of Christian baptism become the "the springs of salvation" that the prophet Isaiah promised (Is 12:3). It is the water that will "cleanse you of all your filth... and give you a new heart and a new spirit" that Ezekiel prophesied (Ez 36:24-27). The waters of Christian baptism are God's invitation to all humanity to receive the promises made through David's heir, Christ Jesus: "Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life. I will renew with you the everlasting covenant, the benefits assured to David" (Is 55:5).

Jesus is the Servant-Son that the 8th century BC prophet Isaiah describes in our First Reading: a man sent by God to serve others and to bless the people with peace (Psalm Reading). But this blessing is not just for Israel; it is the universal salvation God promised through the prophet Isaiah (Is 66:1-18).  St. Peter testified to God's gift of universal salvation through the Sacrament of Christian baptism in our Second Reading.  Peter speaks of God's gift of salvation to Jews and Gentiles as he prepares to baptize the men, women, and children gathered in the house of the Roman centurion Cornelius who came to accept Jesus as Savior and Lord. It is the fulfillment of the prophecy of St. Simeon when he held the Christ-child in his arms at Jesus' Temple dedication and prophesied a universal blessing and the promise of the gift of salvation for both Gentiles and Jews (Lk 2:30-32).

The First Reading Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7 ~ The Servant of Yahweh
1 Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations, 2 not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street. 3 A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench, until he established justice on the earth; the coastlands will wait for his teaching.
6 I, the Lord, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you, by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, 7 to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.

Our first reading from the Old Testament is from the first of the four "Servant Songs" found in the book of the 8th century BC prophet Isaiah (see Is 42:1-7; 49:1-7; 50:4-11 and 52:13-53:12). The Old Covenant people of God believed the "Servant Songs" spoke of the promised Davidic King-Messiah. Modern Jews see the "servant" as Israel, but the Holy Spirit inspired Gospel writers, the other New Testament inspired writers, Jesus Himself, and Christian tradition identify the fulfillment of these prophecies in the "the chosen one" (Is 42:1) who is the "Servant of God" Jesus Christ (see Mt 3:16-17; 8:17; 11:2-5; Lk 2:32; 4:16-21; Jn 1:32-34; 1 Pt 2:24-25; etc.).  The four "Servant Song" passages speak of the Servant in the singular as a Messiah sent by God to brings healing and justice to the people (first Servant Song) and who offers his life as a sacrifice for their sins (fourth Servant Song). There are other prophecies in the "songs" that are not fulfilled in the corporate covenant people of Israel but are perfectly fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth (see the chart Isaiah's Messianic Prophecies.htm).

In our first reading, God's Servant is presented as a prophet with a mission and a divine destiny (verse 6) who is anointed by God's Holy Spirit (verse 1) to teach the world (verses 1 and 3). He is to teach gently but firmly, without crushing the fragile spirit of those who are weak (verses 2-3). He is to teach despite opposition to His mission, and His mission will transcend the mission of other prophets as God's supreme prophet since He is Himself both the "light" (verse 6, also see Lk 1:78-79; Jn 1:5, 7-9; 8:12; 9:5) and the bearer of a divine covenant (verse 6, also see Lk 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25) that will bring healing, liberation, and salvation to the people (verse 7, also see Lk 2:32; 4:16-21; 7:22; Acts 4:12; 1 Thes 5:9; etc.). The early Church Father, St. Justin Martyr (died c. 155 AD), wrote concerning Isaiah 42:6-7: "Everything that is said here, my friends, refers to Christ and to the peoples who have been enlightened by his presence" (Dialogus cum Tryphone, 122.2).

Responsorial Psalm 29:1b-4, 9-10 ~ Yahweh is Acclaimed King of the Earth
The response is: "The Lord will bless his people with peace."
1b Give to the LORD, you sons of God, give to the LORD glory and praise, 2 give to the LORD the glory due his name; adore the LORD in holy attire.
Response:
3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters, the LORD, over vast waters. 4 The voice of the LORD is mighty; the voice of the LORD is majestic.
Response:
9 The God of glory thunders, and in his temple all say, "Glory!" 10 The LORD is enthroned above the flood; the LORD is enthroned as king forever.
Response:

God divine covenant Name, YHWH [Yahweh], is repeated 18 times in Psalm 29. This hymn of praise invites the members of the heavenly assembly (angels who are collectively "sons of God") to acknowledge God's supreme sovereignty over the heavens and the earth. They are invited to acknowledge God's supremacy by crying out "Glory" in the heavenly Temple to God the eternal King (verses 1b-2a and 9b-10).

Psalms 29:3-4 ~ The voice of the LORD is over the waters, the LORD, over vast waters. 4 The voice of the LORD is mighty; the voice of the LORD is majestic.
The phrase "the voice of Yahweh" is repeated seven times in verses 3-9 and is probably meant to suggest the sound of thunder (verse 9a) just as the Israelites heard God's voice as thunder in the Theophany at Mt. Sinai (Ex 19:16, 19). The "voice" or Presence "of Yahweh" "over vast waters" is also probably a reminder of presence of God's Spirit over the waters of Creation in Genesis 1:1 as He began the Creation event.

Psalms 29:9-10 ~ 9 The God of glory thunders, and in his temple all say, "Glory!" 10 The LORD is enthroned above the flood; the LORD is enthroned as king forever.
The angels, who have witnessed God's supreme power (3-9a), acknowledge that the King of the universe is enthroned forever with their cry of praise, "Glory!" (verses 9b-10). Their praise to God in the heavenly Temple has the same beginning as the hymn of praise the angels sang at the birth of the Christ-child in Luke 2:14 that began with the word "Glory." We repeat their cry of praise and joy in our Lord God in singing the "Gloria" in the celebration of the Mass.

The Second Reading Acts 10:34-38 ~ Jesus' Gift of Universal Salvation to Believers
34 Peter proceeded to speak to those gathered in the house of Cornelius, saying: "In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. 35 Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him. 36 You know the word that he sent to the Israelites as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all, 37 what has happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached, 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him."

This is the Apostle Peter's fifth kerygmatic address (Greek, kerygma = proclamation, from keryks = herald). This speech to the assembly of "God-fearing" Gentiles in the home of the Roman centurion Cornelius (verses 34-43) has the same basic outline as St. Peter's other proclamations of Jesus as Lord and Savior. The basic kerygmatic message is:

  1. Jesus was sent by God and anointed by the Holy Spirit to be Lord and Messiah.
  2. He did what was good and healed those in need of physical and spiritual healing.
  3. He was put to death by men but arose from the dead on the third day.
  4. He appeared to His disciples and commissioned them to preach in His name.
  5. Whoever believes in Him and is baptized in His name will receive forgiveness of sins.

But what is unique about this message is that it is addressed to Gentiles, and St. Peter acknowledges that God shows no partiality in that every nation who fears Him and acts righteously is acceptable to Him (verses 34-35). The extending of the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ to the Gentiles is in fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament prophets like Isaiah, as St. Peter states to the group of Romans that he is about to baptize: To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name (Acts 10:43; underlining added). It is a mission the Catholic (universal) Church continues to fulfill today and will continue to fulfill in the future until Christ returns to claim all the faithful.

The Gospel of Mark 1:7-11 ~ The Baptism of God's Beloved Son
7 And this is what he proclaimed: "One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water, he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." 9 It happened in those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. 10 On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and [immediately = euthus] the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. 11 And a voice came from the heavens, "You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased."

In verses 7-8 the one described in Mark 1:2-3 speaks, announcing the coming of the One before whom he is unworthy and who "will baptize with the power of the Holy Spirit." The Baptist is preparing the way by cleansing the people in preparation of the ministry of Jesus the Messiah, Son of God. Jesus is the greater and John the lesser. Notice that Mark presents the Baptist according to his mission: he points the way to God the Son and then he fades away to give prominence to Jesus.

I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
To untie a master's sandals was considered a demeaning task that was not required by a Jewish servant (Mek. 21:1; b Ketub. 96a). "To be unworthy" of such a task would be to lower oneself below the status of a slave.

8 I have baptized you with water, he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
"He will baptize with the Holy Spirit" is in the future tense. Baptism by the Holy Spirit in the name of God was promised by the prophet Ezekiel (Ez 36:25-27). So while the promise is not new, the announcement of the one who will provide the gift is new.

Mark 1:9-11 ~ The Baptism of Jesus
9 It happened in those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. 10 On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and [immediately = euthus] the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. 11 And a voice came from the heavens, "You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased."
St. John the Baptist's mission is presented as God's prelude to the saving mission of God the Son as foretold by the prophets. St. Mark does not provide the details of Jesus' baptism that are found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. In the Gospel of John, the event is not described at all; we only hear of it after the fact.

If Jesus is God and therefore without sin, why did He submit to John's baptism of repentance? For Jesus it was not a baptism of repentance but was instead an anointing by the Holy Spirit for the three holy offices He fulfilled as divine prophet, priest, and Davidic king in preparation for His ministry. He was also demonstrating the anointing through baptism by water and the Spirit to which everyone who believes in Him must summit in order to be reborn into the family of God and thereby receive the gift of eternal salvation.  See Jn 3:3, 5; CCC 436, 783, 1257.

Jesus affirmed that baptism is necessary for salvation in His discussion with the Pharisee Nicodemus in the Gospel of John (Jn 3:1-7; also see Mt 28:19-20; Mk 16:15-16). Baptism is at the heart of Christian life, and it is the only means the Church knows of that assures entry into eternal life. However, the Church acknowledges that while God has bound salvation to the Sacrament of Baptism, He himself is not bound by His sacraments and will save whoever He desires to save.

As Jesus comes up from the water of John's baptism, He has a vision of three divine signs from heaven (verses 10-11). See CCC 536.
1. He sees Heaven opened that had been closed since the Fall of Adam (CCC 536)
2. He sees the Spirit descending like a dove.
3. He hears a voice from Heaven saying: "You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

The Hebrew word for "spirit" is ruah; it can be translated "spirit," "wind," or "breath." There are two events in the Old Testament that recall the descent of the "spirit" or "divine wind" of God hovering over water and the image of a dove that is flying over water. The descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove over Jesus and the waters of the Jordan River recall:

  1. The Spirit/divine wind of God hovering over the waters in the first Creation event.
  2. The dove Noah released to fly over the receding waters at the end of the great Flood at the new beginning for mankind on earth.

The event of Jesus' baptism is both a new beginning and a new creation (Gen 1:2, 8:6-12).

It is the intention of St. Mark to tell the story of how the Son pleased the Father, beginning with God the Father's announces from Heaven.  The opening of the gates of Heaven at Jesus' baptism that had been closed since the Fall of Adam marks the beginning of the new era (CCC 536). God resides above in the heavenly Sanctuary and human history takes place below, but now the opening up of the access to Heaven promises a new intimacy with God not enjoyed by man since before the Fall of Adam. God has ripped the heavens open at Jesus' baptism, never to shut them again. Through this gracious opening in the void between Heaven and earth, God has now poured forth His Spirit onto the earthly realm of mankind (Gen 7:11; Is 24:18; 64:1; Ez 1:1; Rev 4:1; 11:19). The gift of the Spirit in the new creation promised by God through the prophet Isaiah is now fulfilled (Is 42:1-5; 11:1-3; 61:1; 63:10-14). It is as the One gifted with the Spirit (verse 10) that Jesus will provide to His faithful the baptism by the Spirit and re-birth in His sacrificial death.

The Gospel of Mark, like the other Synoptic Gospels, presents the first revelation of the Most Holy Trinity to mankind at Jesus' baptism:

  1. God the Holy Spirit descends from heaven.
  2. He rests upon Jesus who is God the Son.
  3. The divine voice of God the Father is heard from heaven announcing His pleasure in God the Son.

11 And a voice came from the heavens, "You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased."
The voice of God the Father from Heaven calling Jesus "my beloved Son" recalls another father and an angel who referred to the son in the same way. It is the only other time in the Old Testament that this wording is used for a son. In Abraham's test of a covenant ordeal in Genesis 22, he was asked by God to offer his "beloved son" in sacrifice (Gen 22:1, 12). It is a foreshadowing of God the Father offering His "beloved Son" in sacrifice for the salvation of mankind (Heb 11:17-19). In His submission to St. John's ritual purification for the forgiveness of sins, the sinless Jesus, who is fully man and fully God, has shown His obedience to the will of God the Father. Jesus begins His three year ministry to restore and redeem the faithful remnant of the old Israel to be the emissaries of His new Israel empowered to call all the nations of the earth into a relationship with God that promises not the temporal blessings of the Old Sinai Covenant but the eternal blessings of a New and Universal Covenant in Christ Jesus.

The question one might ask "Is Baptism necessary for salvation?"  The answer is "Yes!" After His resurrection, Jesus told His disciples: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned" (Mk 16:15-16; also see Mt 28:19-20). God will save whomever He will save, but the required response to faith in Jesus Christ is the Sacrament of Baptism. It is the only means Jesus has given His Church to lead souls to salvation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms this truth: "The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them. Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are 'reborn of water and the Spirit.' God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments" (CCC 1257).

Additional Catechism references for this lesson:
Isaiah 42:1-9 (CCC 713); 42:1 (CCC 536, 555); 42:3 (CCC 580); 42:6 (CCC 6, 580)
Psalm 29:2 (CCC 2143)
Acts 10:35 (CCC 761); 10:38 (CCC 438, 453, 486, 1289)
Mark 1:11 (CCC 151, 422)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015