The Baptism of the Lord

The manifestations of what God is doing for creation in Jesus continue apace, suggesting that there are even more facets for exploration than we have seen to date liturgically, rich though the past weeks have been. The template today is complex: the Isaian servant, closely resembling Moses, declares the itinerary: the journey through the waters and back into the land, the heritage that is God’s gift. Once the waters have been crossed—whether of the Jordan, the Euphrates, the Red Sea—the God signals a new relationship is “on,” different than before, and difficult to understand and accept, if we read the narratives correctly here. The servant will become credible in his role as catalyst of the relationship of justice, liberation, but in changed circumstances. It’s not what the people thought, expected. That the servant travels the same waters as the community does is key, since in the case of all three figures implied here, the journey of the people is not smooth. 

Belief comes hard, even with Isaiah, Moses, Jesus going ahead of us, walking with us. Each of them suffers and is approved. Each will, with integrity blended with some degree of failure, try to embody what God has in mind for the people. The people suffer too, in the stories lying behind these readings, but mostly at cross-purposes with God. The manifestation here, arguably, is that it does not need to be that way. What God offers to those willing to journey with the servant does not preclude suffering, to the contrary.  But it need not include cross-purposes with God. The role of the servant is to make clear what God has in mind, always a surprise, it seems fair to say. The second reading from Acts springs one of the surprises: More are included than was thought to be the case. And yet, that is not so new either. A mixed multitude followed Moses out of Egypt, and more people returned from exile than originally had “Judean passports.” So the fresh challenge here is not the fact of inclusivity but the challenge to continue to do it, lest we find ourselves at cross-purposes with God.  While we are waiting for others to widen the tents a bit, let’s us all find ways to do it as well.

Barbara Green, O.P.

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