Welcome Back to Banquet of the Word!
Join us every week for background on this Sunday readings.
Our mission is simple:
We want to help everyone in “pew-land” get more out of mass.
This week we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord, the official end of the Christmas Season (According to the liturgical calendar, Ordinary Time doesn’t officially begin until the Monday after the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which falls on the Sunday after Epiphany.)
Let’s dive in!
1ST READING (IS 42: 1-4, 6-7)
(The 1st Reading is Old Testament. It always links to the Gospel.)
Isaiah is a prophet with whom we’re all familiar, even if just by name. In terms of length, Isaiah takes the cake for the Old Testament prophets at a total of 66 chapters. It is often called “The Fifth Gospel” because it bears witness to Christ unparalleled by any book in the OT. He prophesied for close to 79 years, during what is arguably the worst time in Israel’s history. Put simply, the people have turned their back on God in a serious way, for a seriously long time (think idol worship, really bad-behaving kings, and exile). But God gave Isaiah a message to share: Despite the deep darkness in which Israel found themselves, a great light would come.
For Isaiah, the vision of God’s majesty was so overwhelming that military and political power faded in significance. He constantly called his people back to reliance on God’s promises and away from vain attempts to find security in human plans and intrigues. Isaiah is known for his 4 “servant songs.” This verbiage resurfaces in the New Testament (and in today’s Gospel). Isaiah writes to a people who are familiar with kings being anointed in their land at huge ceremonies. They would have heard this kind of language at one of those ceremonies – for example, when David anointed Solomon. In speaking to them in this familiar style, his message is more likely to stick.
Listen to the theme here of justice – of Divine Kingship vs. earthly kingship. And hear how God tenderly speaks to his people, his audience – with the words “I” and “you.”
Thus says the LORD:
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,
not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
a bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching.
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,
to open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.
RESPONSORIAL PSALM (29)
(The Psalm is a “response” to what we heard in the 1st Reading)
“The Lord will bless His people with peace.”
The psalm is always a response to the first reading. Today’s response assures us that though the people are in darkness, the Lord will bless His people with peace. Interestingly, He doesn’t promise to bless the times and seasons with peace (look at all the unrest around us today and throughout history), but he will bless His people with peace – peace in their hearts despite what’s happening around them. Take comfort in Christ our Savior. True peace will be achieved at the Second Coming. Until then, be a people of peace, a light to the nations. More verbiage here of kingship in verse 3 (“enthroned).
The Lord will bless his people with peace.
Give to the LORD, you sons of God,
give to the LORD glory and praise,
Give to the LORD the glory due his name;
adore the LORD in holy attire.The Lord will bless his people with peace.
The voice of the LORD is over the waters,
the LORD, over vast waters.
The voice of the LORD is mighty;
the voice of the LORD is majestic.The Lord will bless his people with peace.
The God of glory thunders,
and in his temple all say, “Glory!”
The LORD is enthroned above the flood;
the LORD is enthroned as king forever.
2nd READING: ACTS 10: 34-38
(The 2nd reading is usually from Paul’s letters. Speaks to how the early church was built after Christ’s death and resurrection).
In this pivotal scene from Acts, Peter, the Rock on whom Christ built the Church, the first Pope, makes a striking announcement to the people – and to us. Salvation through Christ – which comes through baptism – is not just available to Jews, but also to the Gentiles! This was a shocking discovery. Let’s pause and consider why this is.
Up until this point, the people who believed Christ was the Messiah were elated to know that all the prophecies of old were now fulfilled. The Messiah had come! But it’s a sticky moment in Church history to a degree. Everyone who was looking forward to the coming of the Messiah – including the Apostles and Jesus himself – were Jewish. So to them, their Messiah had come. The answer promised to them for generations was here. But they didn’t really understand that this was now a New Covenant – an advancement or fulfillment of the Old. They didn’t know it would mean a “new faith” (Christianity) – new practices, new teachings. The concept of a “new faith” or “a new Church” was not yet established. Many of Paul’s letters are written to clarify these complex, generations-old traditions: “Do we still need to be circumcised? Can we eat ‘unclean’ foods? What are the new rules?” If I were Peter or Paul, charged with that task, I can only imagine the reliance I would need to put on my prayer life and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes in our own lives we enter a new chapter. It’s not the same as the old! Going from high school to college. Going from internship to a paid position with benefits. Going from dating to marriage. From married couple to family. From working life to retirement. What are the new ways of doing things, and what are the old? How do we adapt?
Back to the reading: So who’s Cornelius? He’s a Roman Centurian – a Gentile. In the reading, Peter preaches the Gospel to Cornelius and other gentiles for the first time. Here’s where it gets cool. After preaching the gospel (keep reading in Acts 10), Peter sees the gentiles experience the same things that had happened at Pentecost – like speaking in tongues – and he recognizes this as a “second Pentecost.” Peter proceeds to baptize this group of men. This is Peter’s “a-ha” moment: He knows with certainty that God wants ALL people to receive salvation through His Church, beginning with baptism. From this point forward, Peter takes this message out to the world begins to preach to all people.
Peter proceeded to speak to those gathered
in the house of Cornelius, saying:
“In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.
Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly
is acceptable to him.
You know the word that he sent to the Israelites
as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all,
what has happened all over Judea,
beginning in Galilee after the baptism
that John preached,
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.”
GOSPEL (LK 3:15-16, 21-22)
(The Gospel is the highest point of the Liturgy of the Word. That’s why we stand.
We are about to hear from and be instructed by Christ Himself.)
The prophets of old said “Before the Messiah comes, look for Elijah.” John the Baptist is acting like “the new Elijah” – who leads the way to Jesus. John brought words of power to the people to whom he preached, and the people thought he might be the Christ. In the reading, the people are baptized, and Jesus goes last. Jesus puts His people before Him.
Why is Jesus baptized if He’s God? I like this explanation from Catholic Online:
“The Word Incarnate stands in the waters of the earth which was created through Him, and begins the re-creation of everything. Into these waters, through which the people of Israel were once delivered, the entire human race is now invited to follow Jesus. What was once the means of God’s judgment and purification at the time of Noah, now fills the Baptismal font where men and women are delivered from sin and made new.”
Wow. At this moment, for the first time, we see all three persons of God present simultaneously: Jesus is there, the Holy Spirit descends on Him like a Dove, and the voice of God the Father is heard from above quoting the servant song of Isaiah 42: “You are my beloved Son, with You I am well pleased.” Wow again.
Where in our lives do we need to be cleansed? Where do we need to be ‘re-created’ and begin anew? Although we’ve already been baptized, our sacramental life – through Eucharist and Reconciliation – are the tools Jesus left on Earth for us so that we would have access to His Sacramental, Heavenly Grace.
The people were filled with expectation,
and all were asking in their hearts
whether John might be the Christ.
John answered them all, 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 with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
After all the people had been baptized
and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying,
heaven was opened 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.”
May God bless your week!