A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday Liturgy
BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (# 7)
Baptism of the Lord, Year A – January 9, 2005
“Jesus Was Baptized”
Is 42:1-4, 6-7 // Acts 10:34-38 // Mt 3:13-17
I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS
The recent catastrophe in Southern Asia has affected us the PDDM Sisters greatly. One of those who died in that natural disaster was a professed member of our religious Congregation (PIAE DISCIPULAE DIVINI MAGISTRI). I met her when she was a novice in Bangalore, India many years ago. Sr. Maria Goretti, the superior of the PDDM community in Pondicherry, perished in the raging waters of the tsunami that swept through the Indian coast the day after Christmas. In the early morning of December 26, five PDDM Sisters left Pondicherry for a pilgrimage to a famous Marian shrine, Our Lady of Velankani. They made a stopover at the coastal town of Nagapattanam for breakfast. They had just boarded the car when they heard frantic, terrified shouts: “The water is rising. Run for your life!” Together with many others, the Sisters ran as fast as they could, away from the violent onslaught of the killer waves. They took refuge in a safer place. Sr. Maria Goretti got lost in the confusion and desperate flight for life. At 12:30 P.M., the survivors found the lifeless body of the kindly, compassionate Sister, covered with mud. Sr. Maria Goretti’s immersion into the Paschal Mystery of Christ, prefigured in the sacrament of baptism, was complete. She had crossed the raging waters to eternal life. The fateful “baptism” she underwent in the forceful tsunami waters led her to a supreme, ultimate participation in the death and rising of Jesus Christ to new life, a sanctifying paschal process begun in the sacramental waters of baptism. Indeed, Sr. Maria Goretti has died to this earth, but lives on in heaven. She is now united in eternal life with the glorified Risen Christ, who like us, had also been immersed in the waters of baptism.
This Sunday’s celebration of the baptism of the Lord fittingly concludes the Christmas-Epiphany season. Ordinary Time begins tomorrow and the liturgy of the season through the year emphasizes the daily ministry of Jesus to the people of his day and the flock that he continues to shepherd in the here and now. The feast of the Lord’s baptism contains tremendous significance and profound riches for the community of believers today. At the River Jordan where Jesus submitted himself to a baptism by John, there was an epiphany, a messianic investiture and anointing by the Holy Spirit, and above all, a pre-figuration of Christ’s Paschal Mystery.
The climax of Matthew’s baptismal account (Mt 3:13-17) is the identification of Jesus as the Son of God. According to him, a voice came from the heavens saying: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 13:17). The voice was addressed publicly to those present and had a revelatory character. For the evangelist Matthew, the baptismal event was an epiphany – a manifestation of Jesus to the world as the Son of God, totally committed to serve the Father’s messianic saving plan. According to the biblical scholar, Daniel Harrington: “Matthew’s primary concern is to show that at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry he is publicly acknowledged as the Son of God. This in turn makes clear the significance of everything that Jesus will do in the course of that ministry. His is the ministry of God’s own Son. A new age under the power of God has begun, and in it all the plans of God will be fulfilled.”
The evangelist Matthew depicted the baptismal event at the Jordan as a messianic investiture through the anointing of the Spirit. According to the Gospel writer: “After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him” (Mt 3:16). The specific character of Jesus’ ministry as Messiah is to be understood against the backdrop of the Suffering Servant described by the prophet Isaiah: “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” (Is 42:6-7). Jesus is the beloved Servant who does the Father’s will. At his baptism in Jordan River, he was being revealed as the promised Messiah who responds to the longing of Israel for the “heavens to open and to rain down the just one” (Is 45:8). As the true Messiah, Jesus brings the favor and grace of God. As the fulfillment of all our Advent yearnings for salvation, he is the ultimate Christmas gift of the loving Father to us.
Through his baptism, Jesus was anointed by the Spirit of God and filled with his power. The biblical theologian, Francis Durrwell comments: “The theophany of the Jordan marks the beginning of Christ’s public life. God guarantees Jesus of Nazareth: the voice from heaven shows that he is the Son; the presence of the Holy Spirit shows that he is the Messiah, the Anointed One of Yahweh, upon whom the power of God rests. Like the heroes of old, Christ enters upon his career by the impetus of the Holy Spirit.” The anointing by the Holy Spirit makes of Jesus a prophet who brings the glad tidings of salvation to all and liberates those in the cruel grip of sin and evil.
Reflecting on Jesus’ baptism, Harold Buetow draws out some personal application: “Our baptism is different from the baptism of Jesus. But, like Jesus’ baptism, ours also involves manifestation and mission. With respect to manifestation, in virtue of our baptism we’re called to show forth that the beloved Son of the Father lives in our hearts, and the presence of Jesus in our world. Our call to mission means that we are sent out in the power of the Spirit to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom and, with Jesus, to do good. Both manifestation and mission call us, as Jesus was called, to be God’s servants, to live in harmony with one another, to work together for that unity for which Jesus prayed, to bring justice to the world.”
More significantly, the baptism of Jesus at the Jordan by the precursor, John the Baptist has a paschal implication. Francis Durrwell explicates: “John was the herald going ahead to open the road, the friend leading the way. The demand he must fulfill was preparing the road, and ushering in his greater friend. The demand Christ must fulfill was to be the savior of the sinful people. The meeting between them brought John to the culminating point of his mission as he, as it were, ushered Christ into his work of redemption. And Christ entered upon that work. The baptism was a prelude to the redemption, and there lies the mystery of it. It was a prelude in symbol as well as in reality, for the whole act of redemption was reflected in it and begun in it … The baptism of water to which Christ had to submit himself was related to his essential work of death and resurrection … This anticipation of the drama of redemption took place in a ritual of water: Christ was rehearsing for his death and resurrection by entering the waters of baptism and emerging from them … The account of his baptism even as it stands brings to mind the whole drama of the redemption, and enables Christians to see the sacrament of water as an extending to them of the great eschatological event of our Lord’s death and resurrection.”
In his sermon on the baptism of Christ, the Church Father St. Gregory of Nazianzus avows the paschal character of Christian baptism and delineates its implications for us: “Christ is bathed in light. Christ is baptized; let us go down with him, rise with him … Jesus rises from the waters; the world rises with him … Today let us do honor to Christ’s baptism and celebrate this feast of holiness. Be cleansed entirely and continue to be cleansed. Nothing gives such pleasure to God as the conversion and salvation of men, for whom his every word and every revelation exist. He wants you to be a living force for all mankind, lights shining in the world. You are to be radiant lights as you stand beside Christ, the great light, bathed in the glory of him who is the light of heaven.”
II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART
A. What does it mean personally to us that the Lord’s baptism is an “epiphany”? Do we perceive this character of “epiphany” in the baptismal event of Jesus as a loving act of God?
B. How does the ministerial aspect of Jesus’ baptism affect us? How does the vocation and mission of the Servant-Son challenge us?
C. Do we fully surrender to the paschal implication of our Christian baptism? In our daily lives, are we ready to die and rise with Jesus Christ, whose baptism in the waters of the Jordan signifies his blood bath on Mount Calvary and his resurrection to Easter glory?
III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD
(Cf. Preface of the Baptism of the Lord)
Leader: Father, all-powerful and ever-living God
we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks.
You celebrated your new gift of baptism
by signs and wonders at the Jordan.
Your voice was heard from heaven
to awaken faith in the presence among us
of the Word made man.
Your Spirit was seen as a dove revealing Jesus as your servant,
and anointing him with joy as the Christ,
sent to bring to the poor the good news of salvation.
In our unending joy
we echo on earth the song of the angels in heaven
as they praise your glory for ever:
Assembly: Holy, holy, holy, Lord, God of power and might,
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.
IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD
The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.
“A voice came from the heavens, saying: ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” (Mt 3:17)
V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION
A. ACTION PLAN: Do all what you can to alleviate the sufferings of the victims of the recent calamity in Southern Asia. Pray for the dead and with your material, moral and spiritual contribution, help the survivors rebuild their devastated lives and overcome their distressing situation.
B. ACTION PLAN: To celebrate the “epiphany” of God’s love revealed in the Baptism of his Son-Servant, Jesus Christ, and in view of a more meaningful Year of the Eucharist, make an effort to spend an hour in Eucharistic Adoration. Visit the PDDM WEB site (www.pddm.us) for the EUCHARISTIC ADORATION THROUGH THE LITURGICAL YEAR (# 7): a weekly Pastoral Tool for the Year of the Eucharist.
Prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret Tapang PDDM
PIAE DISCIPULAE DIVINI MAGISTRI
SISTER DISCIPLES OF THE DIVINE MASTER
60 Sunset Ave., Staten Island, NY 10314
Tel. (718) 494-8597 // (718) 761-2323