With today’s feast, the Christmas cycle ends and we return to Ordinary Time. The readings in these first weeks focus on stories of those called to discipleship. The stories tell not only how specially chosen persons played important roles in the unfolding drama of salvation history, but also how ordinary persons (like all of us) are called to play an extraordinary part by continuing God’s creative and healing work in the power of the Spirit.
We do not know who was the chosen “servant” of whom Isaiah speaks. It may be that this figure represents the whole people of Israel. Some think it refers to a faithful remnant. It may have been an individual, even the prophet himself, or a past prophet or king. Alternatively, it may refer to a future messianic figure. There are strong parallels between this servant and Jesus. Both know how pleased God is with them; both are empowered by the divine Spirit. Both work for universal justice, not by commanding or imposing it, but by teaching everyone, by healing blindness and by freeing people from whatever confines them (Is 42:4, 7). Neither one brings justice with a billy club; that would break one who is already bruised and would quench the smoldering wick of hope. Rather, it is with the gentle persuasion of love, with its healing power, by which the Isaian servant and the beloved Son unleash the forces of good.
Mark describes what empowers Jesus to go about “doing good” (Acts 10:38): the unshakeable knowledge and the experience deep within that God loves him utterly and takes great delight in him. This kind of love washes away sin and its effects. It has always been hard to understand why Jesus asked for John’s “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mk 1:4). It is possible that, while Jesus had committed no personal sins, he was aware that he was part of a sinful world in need of pardon, and thus requested John’s baptism. What is clear in the Gospel is that this is a defining moment for Jesus. A colorful metaphor, “the heavens being torn open,” conveys that there is no separation between God and Jesus. The Gospel invites us also to recall those touchstone moments in our lives in which we have sensed God’s powerful presence, whispering in our ear: “You are my beloved daughter/son; I am so delighted in you.” Such moments are the ones that energize us to continue the divine creating and healing mission entrusted to us through Jesus and empowered by the Spirit.