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

Readings:
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7 or 40:1-5, 9-11
Psalm 29:1-4, 9-11 or 104:1b-2, 3-4, 24-25, 27-30
Acts 10:34-38 or Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7
Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

Abbreviations: 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).

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 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."  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, and this is the meaning of "Ordinary Time" since we count the weeks between the Church's seasons. 

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."  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 is the Gospel of St Matthew.  The next year we read Cycle B which is St. Mark's Gospel, and the third year we read St. Luke's Gospel until we repeat the cycle again. 

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: The Baptism of the Chosen Servant
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 prophets.  St. Peter testified to God's gift of universal salvation through the Sacrament of Christian baptism (Second Reading).  In Acts chapter 10, St. Peter speaks of God's gift of salvation to 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).

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 clear 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). 

The First Reading Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7 (NJB) ~ Yahweh's Chosen Servant
1 Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom my soul delights.  I have sent my spirit upon him, he will bring fair judgment to the nations.  2 He does not cry out or raise his voice, his voice is not heard in the street; 3 he does not break the crushed reed or snuff the faltering wick.  Faithfully he presents fair judgment; 4 he will not grow faint, he will not be crushed until he has established fair judgment on earth, and the coasts and islands are waiting for his instructions ... 6 I, Yahweh, have called you in saving justice, I have grasped you by the hand and shaped you; I have made you a covenant of the people and light to the nations, 7 to open the eyes of the blind, to free captives from prison, and those who live in darkness from the dungeon. 

1 Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom my soul delights.  I have sent my spirit upon him, he will bring fair judgment to the nations. 
The choosing of Yahweh's Servant is accompanied by an outpouring of the Holy Spirit; God's chosen Servant will be anointed with God's Spirit like God's prophets, priests, and kings (Ex 29:7; Lev 8:12; 1 Sam 9:16; 10:1; 11:6; 16:1, 12-13; 1 Kng 1:39; 19:16; 2 Chr 20:14). 

In verses 3-4, contrast will mark the Servant's ministry.  The contrast is between his mild and gentle demeanor and the power of his mighty works.  Even though he has great power, he does not loudly announce himself.  The Servant is so gentle that he would not even break a crushed reed or snuff out the failing wick of an oil lamp—symbols for those who are faint of heart and spirit.  Nevertheless, he brings forth judgments that are righteous and just.  Justice in Scripture denotes more than merely addressing crime.  Rather, it designates a society that functions in obedience according to God's divine Law.

4 he will not grow faint, he will not be crushed until he has established fair judgment on earth, and the coasts and islands are waiting for his instructions.
He is gentle but he is not frail or indecisive.  He is determined and is dedicated to his mission no matter what the obstacles, and his mission is to establish righteous judgment and to provide instruction on earth for all peoples.

6 I, Yahweh, have called you in saving justice, I have grasped you by the hand and shaped you; I have made you a covenant of the people and light to the nations...
In verse 6, God the creator speaks, further endorsing the choosing of His Servant.  Both the Servant's righteous character and God's personal guidance will shape the Servants ministry.  That the Servant is "a covenant of the people" suggests he serves as God's special covenant mediator to God's covenant people, and that he is described as "light to the nations" speaks of his reach beyond Israel to the Gentiles, sharing the light of God's truth with them.

7 to open the eyes of the blind, to free captives from prison, and those who live in darkness from the dungeon. 
The Servant also brings special blessing to those who receive him: physical and spiritual healing.  Those who are spiritually "blind" will be identified as Israel in 42:16, 18 twice, 19; 43:3 and 8.  Who is the mysterious Servant of God Isaiah prophesized in the 8th century BC?  In 42:1 the Servant is identified as God's "chosen one."  This is what God will say of Jesus at the Transfiguration event in Luke 9:23, And a voice came from the cloud saying, "This is my Son, the Chosen One.  Listen to Him."  St. Matthew identifies Jesus of Nazareth as the "chosen Servant," quoting Isaiah 42:1-4 and applying it as a prophecy fulfilled in Jesus in Matthew 12:17-21.  And when St. John the Baptist's disciples came to Jesus asking if He was really the promised Messiah, Jesus alluded to the passage from Isaiah 42:7 and applied it to Himself and His mission, saying, "Go back and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind see again, the lame walk, those suffering from virulent skin-diseases are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, the good news is proclaimed to the poor; and blessed is anyone who does not find me a cause of falling" (Lk 7:22-23).

Or Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11 (NJB) ~ God's Promise of Deliverance
1 Console my people, console them, says your God.  2 "Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and cry to her that her period of service is ended, that her guilt has been atoned for, that, from the hand of Yahweh, she has received double punishment for all her sins." 3 A voice cries, "Prepare in the desert a way for Yahweh.  Make a straight highway for our God across the wastelands.  4 Let every mountain and hill be levelled, every cliff become a plateau, every escarpment a plain; 5 then the glory of Yahweh will be revealed and all humanity will see it together, for the mouth of Yahweh has spoken. [...].  9 Go up on a high mountain, messenger of Zion.  Shout as loud as you can, messenger of Jerusalem!  Shout fearlessly, say to the towns of Judah, "Here is your God."  10 Here is Lord Yahweh coming with power, his arm maintains his authority, his reward is with him and his prize precedes him.  11 He is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast and leading to their rest the mother ewes.

1 Console my people, console them, says your God. The double use of the words "console, console" constitute a double imperative, and the imperatives are in the plural.  The repetition emphasizes the urgency of the command and the plural may indicate that God is calling upon Isaiah and His heavenly court or upon Isiah and all who are in a position to give comfort to God's people—priests, prophets, elders and other leaders. In chapter 40 Yahweh tells Isaiah to console His people with the good news that a new Exodus will begin when God comes to redeem His people and to forgive their sins.

2 "Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and cry to her that her period of service is ended, that her guilt has been atoned for, that, from the hand of Yahweh, she has received double punishment for all her sins."
The same expression "speak to the heart" occurs elsewhere in Scripture to denote gentle, loving words (Ruth 2:13; Hosea 2:16/14).  In verse 2 we hear that God's covenant people have paid for their offenses twice over. The "double" payment can have the sense of completeness.  Because they have fully atoned for their sins, it is now time for God's promised redemption. 

In verses 3-5, God will show His glory by preparing a way for His peoples' return and a mysterious voice will announce His coming.  Sts. Matthew, Mark, and John identify the prophetic voice as St. John the Baptist.  His is the voice that announces the coming of the Redeemer-Messiah and His Kingdom among His people.  In St. John' Gospel he also tells the people of the wondrous, all-encompassing change the Lord's coming will have on the world when all obstacles will be set aside and nothing will hinder the Messiah's coming or the message of His gift of salvation to all mankind (see Mt 3:1-3; Mk 1:1-8; and Jn 1:19-23).

God promises it will not be a difficult journey because He will be with them to make the journey possible.  But not only will He be with them on the journey, He will also reveal His glory to them: 5 then the glory of Yahweh will be revealed and all humanity will see it together, for the mouth of Yahweh has spoken. It is the road by which Yahweh will lead his people through the wastelands on a new Exodus just as He led the children of Israel on the journey through the desert wilderness to the Promise Land.  And like the procession of the children of Israel in the wilderness journey, all the other nations will witness the journey of God's people in their return to covenant union with Him.  Jesus announced that He is "the Way" ... "and no one can come to the Father but through Me" (Jn 14:6)

9 Go up on a high mountain, messenger of Zion.  Shout as loud as you can, messenger of Jerusalem!  Shout fearlessly, say to the towns of Judah, "Here is your God."  10 Here is Lord Yahweh coming with power, his arm maintains his authority, his reward is with him and his prize precedes him.  11 He is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast and leading to their rest the mother ewes.
Isaiah, God's messenger to Zion (the covenant people) is to announce the coming of God.  It will be a new theophany, like the theophany of God on the holy mountain of Mt. Sinai in Exodus chapter 20 but this time the theophany will be on Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem.  Jesus will make an announcement in Jerusalem to the covenant people in John chapter 10 that is the fulfillment of this prophecy and the prophecy of the 6th century prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel 34:11-16, 23-24.   Jesus, the descendant of the great King David, will tell His disciples that He is the Good Shepherd who has come to redeem the "lost sheep" of the house of Israel.

Responsorial Psalm 29:1-4, 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). 

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. 

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.

Or Psalm 104:1b-4, 24-25, 27-30 ~ The Glories of Creation
The response is: "O, bless the Lord my soul."
 
1b O LORD, my God, how great you are!  2 You are clothed with majesty and glory, robed in light as with a cloak.  You have spread out the heavens like a tent,
Response:
 
3 You have built your palace upon the waters above, making the clouds your chariot; you travel on the wings of the wind.  4 You make the winds your messengers, and flaming fire your ministers.
Response:
24 How manifold are your works, O LORD!  In wisdom you have wrought them all—the earth is full of your creatures; 25 the sea also, great and wide, teeming with countless creatures, creatures both small and great.
Response:
27 They look to you to give them food in due time.  28 When you give it to them, they gather it; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
Response:
29 If you take away their breath, they perish and return to the dust.  30 When you send forth your spirit life begins, and you renew the face of the earth.
Response:

This psalm follows the sequence of the Creation narrative in Genesis chapter 1: God created the heavens and the earth and the sea.  He filled the sea and the earth with living creatures and provided food for them.  The spirit of God in verses 29-30 is the source of all life and none of the creatures of the earth or in the sea can live without the breath of God's spirit.

The Second Reading Acts 10:34-38 ~ St. Peter's Homily in the House of Cornelius
34 Then Peter proceeded to speak and said, "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. 

God has sent St. Peter to the home of a Roman centurion named Cornelius who, along with his family and friends, is ready to receive Jesus as his Lord and Savior (Acts 10:17-23).  Acts 10:34-43 is Peter's fifth kerygmatic address and has the same basic outline as his other proclamations of Jesus as Lord and Savior (see Acts 2:14-39; 3:12-26; 4:8-12; 5:29-32 and 10:34-43):

  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.

St. Peter's proclamation of the Gospel to this gathering of Gentiles is followed by the outpouring of God's Spirit upon the group (Acts 10:44) and confirmation of what Peter stated in verse 34 that Jesus' gift of salvation is to be extended to Gentiles as well as Jews.  The gift of universal salvation through Christ Jesus is a fulfillment of St. Simeon's prophecy in Luke 2:32 that Jesus is "a light of revelation for the Gentiles and glory for your people Israel."

Or Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7 ~ The Basis of the Christian's Moral Life and Instruction for Believers
2:11 For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, 12 training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world, 13 awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his won who are zealous for good deeds.  [...] 3:4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, 6 which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus our Savior, 7 so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.

The "grace of God" who has "appeared for the salvation of all men" is Jesus Christ.  Christ has called us to renounce the world and its disorder passions and to embrace right worship through godly lives dedicated to good deeds as we await the return of Christ our Lord and Savior at the end of time.  The Christian life of righteousness is the fruit of grace.  God is the source of that grace and salvation is the goal—it is given to us through Christ Jesus.  Divine grace that was manifested in the Incarnation is actively at work in redeeming each Christian.  It is also the basis of our hope in the Second Coming of the Christ.

Verse 14 is a summary of the doctrine of Redemption.  Four essential elements are listed:

  1. Christ's self-giving in the sacrifice of His life on the altar of the Cross
  2. Redemption from all sin
  3. Purification
  4. Christ has established a people of His own dedicated to good deeds

In 3:4-7, St. Paul lists the effects of Christian baptism as rebirth, forgiveness by Christ, reception of His Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5) and justification by grace so we can obtain the immediate enjoyment of all rights as heirs to eternal life (2 Cor 1:22).  These are the gifts of Christian life that begin with a new life, reborn into the family of God through the Sacrament of Baptism when every Christian baptized in Christ becomes God's "chosen servant."

The Gospel of Luke 3:15-16, 21-22 ~ The Baptism of Jesus
15 Now the people in the crowd were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah.  16 John answered them, saying, "I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming.  I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.  He will baptize you will the Holy Spirit and fire. [...] 21 After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."

Luke 3:15, Now the people in the crowd were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah.
St. John's call to repentance through a ritual of water purification and his warnings of divine judgment for those who oppress the weak and disadvantaged probably reminded the people of the prophecies of the Messiah in the books of the prophets Ezekiel and Malachi:

Luke 3:16, John answered them, saying, "I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming.  I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.  He will baptize you will the Holy Spirit and fire. 
St. John denies that he is the Messiah and tells the crowd that in contrast to his baptism with water, the Messiah will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  It is an event that is literally fulfilled at the Jewish feast of Pentecost fifty days after Jesus' Resurrection in Acts 2:1-14 and which is a fulfillment of the prophecy of the purifying and refining characteristics of the Messiah prophesied in the Ezekiel and Malachi passages.

21 After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."
Jesus was without sin (2 Cor 5:21; CCC 602), but St. John's baptism was one of repentance of sins (Lk 3:3).  So why did Jesus submit to John's baptism if He was without sin and what did His baptism mean in God's divine plan?  Jesus tells John that He must be baptized (Mt 3:13-15).   By baptizing Jesus:

  1. St. John the Baptist reveals the Messiah to Israel in a baptism of anointing by the Holy Spirit (Jn 1:31; Acts 10:37-38).
  2. Jesus is "fulfilling all righteousness" by submitting Himself to the Father's divine will.  (Mt 3:15).
  3. Jesus accepts His mission as God's Servant prophesied by Isaiah in allowing Himself to be counted among the sinners John baptizes, just as He will be counted among sinners at His death  (Is 53:12; Lk 22:37 and 23:32; Rom 5:8; 2 Cor 5:21).
  4. In doing this Jesus is already anticipating the "baptism" of His bloody death on the altar of the Cross for the remission of our sins (Mk 10:38-39; Acts 2:38; 10:43).
  5. He is also demonstrating what those who accept Him as Lord and Savior must do to be joined to His baptism of death and resurrection unto salvation (Mt 28:19-20; Acts 2:38; 22:16).

The Gospel of Matthew provides more details on the event of Jesus' baptism (Mt 3:13-17), but all the accounts in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke record the first undisputed evidence of the Most Holy Trinity in Sacred Scripture.  The Most Holy Trinity has been present in human history from the very beginning, but now the mystery of God's true nature is revealed.  The Most Holy Trinity is present at the baptism of the Christ:

  1. God the Father:  the voice of God from heaven proclaiming His pleasure in Jesus the Son
  2. God the Son: Jesus
  3. God the Holy Spirit: the form of a dove descending upon Jesus

The dove is another sign of the Holy Spirit in addition to water, cloud and fire (CCC 535, 555, 694, 696, 701, 1137, 2652).

Catechism References:
Isaiah 42:1 (CCC 536, 555); 42:2 (CCC 580); 42:6 (CCC 580)
Isaiah 40:1-3 (CCC 719); 40:11 (CCC 754)
Psalm 29:2 (CCC 2143)
Psalm 104 (CCC 288); 104:24 (CCC 295); 104:27 (CCC 2828); 104:30 (CCC 292, 703)
Acts 10:35 (CCC 761); 10:38 (CCC 438, 453, 486, 1289)
Titus 2:12 (CCC 1809); 2:13 (CCC 449, 1041, 1130, 1404, 2760, 2818, 802); 2:14 (CCC 802); 3:5 (CCC 1215); 3:6-7 (CCC 1817)
Luke 3:16 (CCC 696); 3:21 (CCC 608, 2600); 3:22 (CCC 536)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2016