Who is Jesus? On this celebration of Jesus’ baptism, the Gospel of Matthew provides a clear answer: Jesus is the Son of God.
‘God shows no partiality. Whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.’ (Acts 10:34-35)
How can Jesus’ baptism inspire me to live a just life?
Do I hold myself and others accountable for establishing a just society?
When I make mistakes, do I acknowledge them and attempt to improve myself?
Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism includes details not found in the other Gospels. In Mark, which Matthew used as source material, when Jesus is baptized, a voice from heaven speaks directly to Jesus: “You are my beloved Son” (Mk 1:11). Luke’s account also retains the second person (Lk 3:22). John’s version is different, describing Jesus’ baptism from John the Baptist’s perspective (Jn 1:29-34). Matthew depicts a voice speaking about Jesus: “This is my beloved Son” (Mt 3:17). This subtle difference draws attention to the audience who witnessed Jesus’ baptism and informs them of Jesus’ identity. Matthew establishes Jesus and the significance of his forthcoming public ministry.
Matthew also extends Mark’s account by including dialogue between Jesus and John over whether Jesus should submit to baptism. According to Matthew, John was concerned that he was unworthy to baptize Jesus. Nonetheless, Jesus wants to be baptized “to fulfill all righteousness” (Mt 3:15). How should those who are baptized live in order to be righteous with Christ? The first and second readings offer guidance: Establish and inspire justice, and be open to all people.
The first reading is set during the Babylonian exile when the people of Judah were experiencing invasion, destruction and deportation. Isaiah implores them to be strong and bring forth justice like a smoldering wick. An unquenchable, burning flame symbolizes the endurance that is needed to “establish justice on the earth” (Is 42:3). Likewise, Isaiah calls on the exiles to “be a light for the nations” (Is 42:6). We might, with good reason, be uncomfortable with placing the responsibility for inspiring change on those who are already victims of oppression. But those who suffer are often the greatest spokespersons and most compelling advocates. Isaiah recognizes how their example of endurance and fidelity empowers all of us to work tirelessly to achieve a just society, even when we might want to give up.
In the reading from Acts, Luke shows Peter developing a new perspective on Gentiles. Earlier in the narrative, Peter expressed reluctance about associating with non-Jews. After receiving a vision from heaven, Peter recognizes the errors in his ideas, and he becomes more open-minded (Acts 10:28-29). In turn, Peter embraces a meeting with Cornelius, a Gentile and a Roman centurion, because of how he lives, not because of who he is. Cornelius is affirmed as a person who respects God and lives an upright life, and Peter declares Christ as the Lord of all people (Acts 10:36). As the narrative continues, the Holy Spirit descends on the Gentiles, who are then baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 10:44-48).
Jesus’ baptism reminds us of the implications of our own baptism in Christ, which requires us to live as Christ did. We should advocate for justice; and, like Peter, we should be open to critical self-reflection and improvement.