The National Catholic Review
Baptism of Jesus (C), Jan. 10, 2016
“I truly understand that God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34)

The title “servant of God” (Hebrew, ebed) in Isaiah, which appears in a number of “Servant Songs,” is a complex one. When ebed was translated from Hebrew to Greek in the Septuagint, it was translated in roughly equal numbers as pais (“child”) and as doulos (“slave” or “servant”). In the case of Is 42:1, where the Hebrew reads “Here is my servant” (ebed), the Septuagint has “Jacob is my child” (pais) and adds “Israel is my elect one.” The servant who “will bring forth justice to the nations” and who has been given “as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations,” is identified clearly with the nation of Israel.

When the early Christians, who were themselves Jews, reflected on the “Servant Songs” in the light of Jesus’ life, they saw their Messiah as the servant, not Israel—as in Mt 12:18, where the translation of Is 42:1 designates Jesus, not the nation, as “my child” (pais). But how could one man, even the Son of God, be “a light to the nations”? How would life, God’s salvation, be brought to the world by this singular servant?

The first thing Jesus did in his public ministry was to align himself with John the Baptist’s call to repentance and reconciliation among God’s people. Jesus entered into solidarity with Israel, responding to John’s call for the baptism of all Israel to prepare for God’s coming kingdom.

Jesus saw the baptism for the forgiveness of sins as the means by which his own ministry would begin, both at personal and community levels. For Jesus, the baptism was the mysterious start of his mission, an act in unity with fallen humanity but also the point at which the heavens opened, the Holy Spirit descended on him, and a voice from heaven spoke, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus’ own mission was now to start.

At the ecclesial level, Jesus was baptized “when all the people were baptized,” not only as a sign of solidarity with Israel but also to prepare them for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which John had told the people the coming Messiah would bring to them. The people were ready, wondering whether John himself might be the Messiah.

John’s baptism was, therefore, the necessary sign that another baptism of water and spirit was coming with the Messiah. A new people of God was being constituted. Jesus, the servant of God, was not after all alone as a light to the nations. A new Israel would walk with him, baptized with water and the Holy Spirit.

In the Acts of the Apostles, though, Peter is brought to an even newer realization that not only is baptism the means by which the new Israel would walk into God’s kingdom with the Messiah, but that baptism was the means by which every nation would come to constitute with Israel this new people of God.

Peter’s insight came when he met Cornelius, a Roman soldier, and a group of other Gentiles in Cornelius’s home. Peter had been brought to them through a series of revelatory events by which he came to realize that baptism was not just for Jews but for everyone in every nation. Peter’s shocking admission—“I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him”—is also the realization that the light to the nations includes the nations in baptism.

Peter, in the joy of this realization, offered baptism to the gathered Gentiles then and there, when the Holy Spirit descended on them. This fulfilled John’s promise, too, that the Messiah would come with water and the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ ministry, which began with his own baptism, would now be brought to all by means of baptism. It was not, Titus says, due to any righteousness on our own part that salvation came to us, “but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Ti 3:5). When the light of the nations appeared, it was always clear that salvation needed to be brought to all. This was the work of one man, who handed on the task to many to bring it to completion, to offer life for the world.

John W. Martens is a professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minn. Twitter: @BibleJunkies.

Readings: Is 42:1–7; Ps 104:1–30; Acts 10:34–38; Lk 3:15–16, 21–22
Meditate on Christ’s own baptism. How does Jesus’ baptism indicate solidarity with Israel and the world? Do you understand your own baptism as personal and ecclesial? How can you bring the light of your baptism to others?


Bruce Snowden | 12/28/2015 - 3:45pm

Professor Martens asks, "How can I (all the Baptized) bring the LIGHT of my (our) Baptism to others?" Focusing on light from the Sun of God, in our case Son of God, I'd say the same way a pear, a carrot, a zinnia, a maple tree does it - simply by transforming light into something tangible, something seeable, touchable, something comforting, something beautiful. We use the Light of Christ present in Word and Sacrament to do so, making tangible a lived Faith, Hope, Charity, providing therefrom sustenance, beauty, and shade (clothing and lodging for the needy.) In other words, let the Gospel synthesized, become fruitful in the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy, the blood, bone and marrow of the soul.

William Rydberg | 12/27/2015 - 11:42pm

Baptism is also the unequivocal revelation of the reality of the inner life of the God of Israel, the Holy Trinity- the One God. Baptized in the Name, of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit. The fullest revelation of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel). God has one Name: Father, Son, Holy Spirit - One Divine Nature.
When we are baptized we die with Christ and we rise with Him. In my opinion, one would benefit by augmenting Bible Study with review of Ordinary Catholic catechesis on the Sacrament. The Church well understands the meaning of The Sacrament of Baptism from even before the Scriptures were taken down in writing... Remember that the Scriptures come out of the Church not vice versa...
Finally, the Official Vulgate Translation was derived largely from the Sept. for a reason... The use of the largely Hebrew Masoretic text was part of the Protest. Just my opinion, I respect that you are not a coreligionist.

Pax et bonum this Christmastime, on the third day of the Octave...

Bruce Snowden | 12/29/2015 - 10:37am

Mr. Rydberg - Are you a priest, perhaps a Franciscan, maybe a Secular Franciscan? You often used the Franciscan form of blessing "Pax et Bonum." as you conclude. Just curious, as I am 37 years an OFS having spent another 15 years in the First Order.

William Rydberg | 12/29/2015 - 4:17pm

I am not a priest, neither am I a Friar or even a Tertiary, I have been a working man all of my life, but I am and will always be, a great admirer of all Franciscans and for what they stand...

in Christ,

Pax et bonum this Christmastime. The 5th day of the Octave...

Bruce Snowden | 12/29/2015 - 6:42pm

Mr. Rydberg - Thanks for the clarification. You certainly are strong and well versed in the Faith, as such you come across priestly, probably a teacher and so pleased you like Franciscans. Glad you are a working man - so was St. Joseph, Mary's husband and Jesus' earthly Dad. What an embarrassment Christmas must have been to him, considering that the best he could do for his wife and child was a cave (animal shelter) and an animal feeder as his son's first crib. If it was me I would be embarrassed to death! Pax et Bonum!

William Rydberg | 12/29/2015 - 7:44pm

Don't go all Jose Saramago on us little brother. Scripture is clear in describing Father St Joseph as a righteous man. In my opinion, this is indicative of a man who is fully alive, which is the Glory of God.

I see him in my imaginings as a person eminently in the "moment", doing what can be done and entrusting all to God's mysterious providence.

In my opinion introspection is something we do when we set aside that "moment". Something I do not imagine St Joseph would do. Kinda like a Mom putting together the best meal she can at Christmastime...

I imagine St Joseph to have been full of the Grace of the Patriarchs of Israel. For he is the "Light of Patriarchs" according to Holy Tradition.

Pax et bonum...

Bruce Snowden | 12/30/2015 - 9:35am

Mr. Rydberg, - Yes, Joseph is the greatest of the Patriarchs, prepared by God to properly care for his wife, Mary and their Son, Jesus. However, by God’s design Joseph, along with all the other great saints (little one’s too) remained truly human as he struggled to be also truly holy (God-like) along with his wife, Mary, the GREATEST of the Saints, who also remained truly human obvious in her “how?” questions for example.

Our Mother Mary, conceived without sin grew in wisdom and Grace before God and man, just like her Son, and Joseph, (as we all do) through fidelity to God’s Will which like the rest of us she didn’t always find so obvious, as when she asked her pre-teen Son, “Why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been searching for you?" Jesus like every pre-teen and true to human nature hankering for freedom from parental guidance, made a run for it, showing develop[ping independence, perfectly natural, perfectly normal And God used the human condition within which, and with the help of, to deliver Redemption intact. Joseph an indispensable part of the mix. It took Divine intervention to shake him out of his depressing “divorce thoughts” as can happen to us too.

Also note interestingly, Mary’s good-hearted “meddling Mom” outreach at Cana, when she said to her Son, “They have no wine.” Jesus’ response to her? “How does your concern affect Me?” Note Jesus’ totally human response. Even though as planned, “his time had not yet come” the Gospel says, Jesus did a “sign and wonder” as John might call it, changing a lot of water into a lot of wine, far more than was needed for the wedding celebration, Why? Because His Mother asked! Just as we would do, going out of our way because Mom asked a favor. Right? Joseph wasn't there, at least he's not mentioned, but if he was he would have winked approval to his wife I believe..

Yes, Jesus was truly human. No less Joseph, my Confirmation patron and favorite male saint followed side by side with Francis of Assisi. Incidentally, one of my favorite female saints is Teresa of Avila, a woman of profound common sense and holiness who once said along with many other notables, “God and chocolate are better than God alone!” Wow, my kind of Saint!

This response which was supposed to be a line or two has gotten too wordy, so even though there’s a lot more to say, I better quit now having bored you enough. Pax et Bonum.

William Rydberg | 12/30/2015 - 11:55am

Your narrative reads like the script of a North American 1960's TV sit-com in my opinion.

Nuff said

Pax et bonum this Christmastime. The sixth of the Octave...

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