Lord Jesus, renew us in the waters of baptism today!
Show us again The Father’s love!
by Fr Ray McIntyre
The Gospels are neither clear nor in agreement where John the Baptist was preaching and Jesus was baptised but all agree that the event took place. Pilgrims to the Holy Land visit a site on the river Jordan in order to renew and say yes to the new life in Jesus into which we were born again when our godparents spoke on our behalf at our Baptism. This Sunday the Church recalls the day when Jesus approached John the Baptist and asked to be baptised. Our Lord got into the Jordan river with other people, not because he needed Baptism but because this moment signalled the official opening of his public mission. The main speech was made from heaven, God the Father putting the seal of approval upon the work which Jesus was undertaking with the words :
You are my Son the beloved; My favour rests on You.
Jesus entered the Jordan in solidarity with sinful humanity.He was saying – I’m in here, with you and for you – The Word has truly become flesh. The Baptism of Jesus was a turning point in his life. It makes us think of our own Baptism, not just as an event of the past but as an ever present reality, a constant sharing in the Divine Life of the Risen Christ. The seed planted in our hearts on the day of our Baptism was meant to bloom into a Christian way of living. Living our Baptism now comes as a series of little choices rather than a dramatic moment. Each day we make choices and all sorts of pressures are being exerted on us which we should be aware of: we should see where they are taking us. We must not be like a piece of driftwood carried along by a fast flowing river. Baptism has pointed us in a certain direction, a daily invitation to come closer to God and be helpers in His work of saving the world, of making the world a better place.
We may not have the ability to do great things but we can do good things. The Gospels tell us that Jesus went about doing good. What a beautiful way for us to make a public statement about our Faith and in our own way to complete the mission which Jesus began after his Baptism. Today is a day, perhaps, to ask ourselves if we are being true to the direction in which our lives were pointed at our Baptism.
Scripture readings: Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
Reflections and Prayers by Fr Jack Finnegan SDB
1st Reading – Isaiah 55:1-11
Thus says the Lord:
Oh, come to the water all you who are thirsty;
though you have no money, come!
Buy corn without money, and eat,
and, at no cost, wine and milk.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
your wages on what fails to satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and you will have good things to eat
and rich food to enjoy.
Pay attention, come to me;
listen, and your soul will live.
With you I will make an everlasting covenant
out of the favours promised to David.
See, I have made of you a witness to the peoples,
a leader and a master of the nations.
See, you will summon a nation you never knew,
those unknown will come hurrying to you,
for the sake of the Lord your God,
of the Holy One of Israel who will glorify you.
Seek the Lord while he is still to be found,
call to him while he is still near.
Let the wicked man abandon his way,
the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn back to the Lord who will take pity on him,
to our God who is rich in forgiving;
for my thoughts are not your thoughts,
my ways not your ways – it is the Lord who speaks.
Yes, the heavens are as high above earth
as my ways are above your ways,
my thoughts above your thoughts.
Yes, as the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.
The reading from Isaiah 55 echoes the invitation to the heavenly banquet anticipated in the Eucharist: “Come to the water all you who are thirsty! Come, buy and eat without money! Come, buy wine and milk at no cost!” Seek the LORD while he may be found! Call to the LORD while he is still near! How can such realities come to be? The answer is quite clear: God’s ways are not our ways! God’s word does not return empty! It always does what it is meant to do! Our task is to open our hearts to what the living word mercifully seeks to do in our lives. The reading from Isaiah 42 is from the first of Isaiah’s great servant songs. Who is the servant? The Christian answer has always been Jesus, the one who is eternally loyal and faithful to God’s plan for creation. The first part of the reading outlines the servant’s character: he does not break the crushed reed, nor quench the wavering flame. The second part outlines the servant’s mission: he is the bringer of freedom, of healing and the light of justice. Are we ready to recognise Jesus? Do we recognise Jesus as our spiritual ground? Are we ready to embrace the full implications of justice as he did? Are we ready to be bearers of his light in the world’s darkness? Are we ready to speak tenderly to one another? Do we seek to live the relational nature of Christian spirituality?
LORD, Adonai, we are very much like smouldering wicks and bruised reeds: in real need of the compassion of your Shepherd-Servant. Hear our cry in the wilderness. Hear our cry in the dark and cold of wintry nights. Comfort us. Speak tenderly to us and bring us fresh understanding. Feed us at your banquet table. Help us to find straight ways through the ups and downs of life. Hearten and sustain those trapped in valleys of darkness. Open the eyes of the blind and set the captives free. Let us all know the breathtaking victory of your justice. Let us all give witness to your glory and acclaim your open-handed generosity. Now and forever. Amen.
Psalm – Psalm 28(29):1-4,9-10
Come! Draw water from the crystal springs of salvation! Can you feel the prophet’s joy at the return from exile? And so, he shouts: there is no more reason to fear! The LORD is our strength! The LORD is our salvation! And so we too sing today in praise of God’s name! We too declare God’s greatness! We sing new songs! We shout for joy! Great in our midst is the Holy One of Israel! Psalm 29 is an enthronement psalm. Today we pray it to celebrate God’s wondrous presence in the cosmos as the all-powerful Creator-God. Can you begin to imagine the marvel of God’s voice sounding like thunder across the world’s waters? Can you embrace God’s voice of peace? Can you echo God’s voice of glory? Can you open your heart to a Holy voice full of healing power and divine blessing? Can you cry Glory? Today let us lay hold of that healing grace! Let us bless the Lord! Let us listen to what God says of Jesus!
LORD, Adonai, our souls cry out in praise of you, you who bless your people with peace. We offer you the glory due to your great name. How wonderful you are in all creation! How glorious you are in the vast cosmos where you spread your tent! You are clothed in majesty and glory! Your cloak of stars shines with the splendour of brilliant light! You travel on the wings of the wind in your chariot of cloud! Take hold of our lives! Set fire to our hearts today! Sprinkle our souls with cleansing water from the wells of salvation and nourish our spirits with your living word. Now and always. Amen.
2nd Reading – 1 John 5:1-9
Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ
has been begotten by God;
and whoever loves the Father that begot him
loves the child whom he begets.
We can be sure that we love God’s children
if we love God himself and do what he has commanded us;
this is what loving God is –
keeping his commandments;
and his commandments are not difficult,
because anyone who has been begotten by God
has already overcome the world;
this is the victory over the world –
Who can overcome the world?
Only the man who believes that Jesus is the Son of God:
Jesus Christ who came by water and blood,
not with water only,
but with water and blood;
with the Spirit as another witness –
since the Spirit is the truth –
so that there are three witnesses,
the Spirit, the water and the blood,
and all three of them agree.
We accept the testimony of human witnesses,
but God’s testimony is much greater,
and this is God’s testimony,
given as evidence for his Son.
Do we truly believe that Jesus is Christ? Do we truly believe that he is the Messiah? Do we truly believe that Jesus has been begotten by God and is the One who saves? Do we truly believe that in Jesus God has defeated the world, a victory we participate in through faith and love? Do we truly believe the testimony of the three witnesses: The Spirit, the water and the blood, the water of baptism and the blood of the cross which sign our lives with the power of the Spirit? Our text from Acts is part of Peter’s speech describing his experience with Cornelius: the wonderful work God accomplished in the life of Jesus. This is what the Church and every faithful Christian is asked to do today: to witness to God’s wonderful works as Jesus himself did and in the process doing good, liberating the oppressed, and acting justly. Are we, like Peter, up to the challenge?
Lord Jesus, let your Spirit spill down over us like precious oil. Let your Spirit soak us in the wisdom of your generous love. Remind us that you show no partiality. Your loving compassion is for all. Heal us with your precious grace today. Deliver us from lawlessness and every evil. Be gracious and bless us. Cleanse us! Once again make us a people eager to do all that is good! Let us be reborn in the power of your Spirit! You are our great hope of completion, our sure hope of eternal life. Now and forever. Amen.
Gospel Reading – Mark 1:7-11
In the course of his preaching John the Baptist said:
‘Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals. I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’
It was at this time that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised in the Jordan by John. No sooner had he come up out of the water than he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’
Mark brings together John’s preaching and the baptism of Jesus in a single message. God’s favour comes from above and rests on Jesus whose message goes far beyond that of John. Baptism for Jesus is a call to a mission that centres on healing and the preaching of the Good News, factors that reveal the continuing presence of the Spirit, allowing Jesus to teach and minister with heavenly authority. What else could Mark’s reference to the Spirit and the voice of God mean? Note how Mark, unlike Matthew and Luke, sees what happened as an interior event for Jesus, a personal experience of God’s love. Jesus wants to meet each one of us in just such a loving encounter. Are we open to such an awesome inner experience?
Lord Jesus, you are the beloved Son of the Father! You come among us bearing the gifts of the Spirit and fire. You stand beside us! You make holy the river of life! Refresh us today! Renew us! Restore us! Touch us with your transforming fire. Let the Father’s words echo deep inside our hearts as we rest with you in prayer today. Let your Spirit breathe in us as we renew our own baptismal covenant with you. You are the Favoured One, the Beloved. Bring us to the Father’s House. Now and forever. Amen.
Word of God and Salesian Life by Fr Juan José Bartolomé SDB
With the utmost brevity the evangelist recounts the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. John the Baptist’s preaching and the Father’s public intervention identify him as the Giver of the Spirit and the beloved Son of God. The narrative serves to reveal Jesus’ true identity. He is far more than might be expected from someone coming from Nazareth. He can baptize with the Spirit of God, something not even the Baptist could do. God himself breaks his silence, and the heavens open, to declare publicly that he is Son of God. It would be hard to think of a better way to begin the story of the life of Jesus, the Messiah and the Son of God. Mark lets his readers understand that he is not speaking about an ordinary man of God, and that his message is more than just good news. Jesus gives his Spirit and so he makes God present in himself and in his preaching.
Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
Mark begins the Good News about Jesus Christ, Son of God (Mk 1, 1) with a prologue (Mk 1,2-13). Before introducing the main character, he gives the word first to the Baptist, the precursor (Mk 1, 2-8), and then immediately God introduces himself as the Father who loves the Son. Before Jesus is recognised from what he says and does, God identifies him as his beloved Son.
The narrator says very little about his main character. He comes from Nazareth, a place with no great reputation (cf. Jn 1, 46). He allows himself to be baptized by John as a sign of his desire for conversion. It is not a very promising beginning, but it is followed by the testimony of God himself. This is the third and definitive testimony to Jesus (Mk 1,1. 7-8. 11) and it the most important part of the whole episode: God reveals who Jesus is for him! This far surpasses the statement of John the Baptist or his expectations (Mk 1,7-8). Before others say it (Mk 1, 24; 5,6), God himself states that he is Jesus’ Father and identifies Jesus as his Son. God is identifying himself – it is Jesus who defines him as Father. There could be no better introduction: God identifies himself with this man who is baptized in the Jordan. Anyone who believes in God has no choice but to accept Jesus as God. The believer’s task is to see Jesus with the eyes and heart of God.
This brief episode is the story of a man called by God to be the Son of God. In effect, it describes the vocation of Jesus to be the Son of God and to act as such (cf. Ps. 2, 7). Although he is unknown, the appearance of Jesus on the banks of the river Jordan offers God the opportunity to communicate with his people. He gives his Spirit to his anointed one through the water of baptism. Wherever Jesus is, even if his presence is hardly noticed, the heavens open without any obstacle, the Spirit descends and God speaks. The time of waiting is over. Who is there to wait for, if the Son has come? Where God does not speak, and where He is unknown, Jesus is absent. When he is present, even if it is in the desert, God breaks his silence and the heavens are opened.
It is God who says that he is the Father of Jesus. When God speaks, he creates. (cf Gen 1, 3. 184.108.40.206-14.20-24). God’s word is a creative word. Whoever he calls son, becomes son. It is the Father who acknowledges the Son by publicly accepting him as his own. God reveals his Fatherhood at the very moment when Jesus appears on the scene. Even before Jesus says or does anything to show that he is the Son, he is introduced by God as his Son, and God introduces himself as his Father. Being the Son results from the will of the Father. Jesus is the beloved Son of the Father. This paternal love precedes and will accompany his ministry – this man of Nazareth is the Son of God. The account which begins now is not about the activities of a mere man, however great he might be. It is the story of the things done by the Son of God. God is at the origin of the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth. Whatever is said about him is the good news about God.
Meditate: apply what the text says to life
We have celebrated the birth of Jesus. Now we return to contemplate him as he walked among people, preaching about God and his kingdom. As we do so, we have an opportunity to relive the circumstances of his journey among people. This will help us to live among them, in the hope that one day we will find God-with-us, who is Jesus of Nazareth.
Today’s gospel presents us with Jesus, already adult, going to the Jordan to be baptized by John. This must have been a fundamental decision for Jesus. It was one of the milestones of his life. We know very little about his life up to this point, but we can say that he led a normal life like that of any man in Galilee. From now on, he will live on the roads, without a roof over his head and without a family of his own, proclaiming the kingdom of God and drawing near to those who were willing to listen to him. Almost all of what we know about him – the miracles he worked and the parables he spoke, the constant disputes with his enemies, the difficult relationship with his disciples, his wandering life and his tragic death –belongs to the period that follows his meeting with John the Baptist, and is the logical consequence of that meeting. Baptism brought about a radical transformation in Jesus. If that is what baptism meant for him, then what should it mean for us?
For the Jews baptism was a penitential exercise. Receiving baptism meant acknowledging one’s sins and the desire to return to God. Jesus joined the crowd going down into the Jordan in search of forgiveness and desirous of conversion, but for him, baptism was not an act of repentance. God had taken it upon himself to dispel any shadow of doubt by publicly declaring Jesus his beloved Son. The people who went to John the Baptist with the desire of turning back to God, found among their company the God they had lost. The God that they thought far away from their worries and their sin, and whom they had often ignored, was standing there among them in the Jordan. The Son of God, identified as such by the Father in the presence of John and the crowd, has nothing else to do than preach conversion and the coming of the Kingdom to those who needed it most. Because he belonged totally to God and the family of God, Jesus put himself at the service of all who wanted to belong to God and were not yet fully his.
Jesus discovered his personal mission when he was recognised openly. Having been publicly proclaimed the Son of God, he could not but give himself totally to the things of God. He could no longer hide among men who were seeking God, because God has identified him as his Son. The more he knew he was close to God, the more he felt the need to draw men nearer to God. At the Jordan, God could not remain silent about what Jesus meant to him, and from then on Jesus could not stay silent about God and his Kingdom. When his relationship with God was not known, Jesus could remain anonymous and be regarded as just another Galilean. When God broke his silence and the heavens opened, and God proclaimed him his beloved Son, he had no other mission on earth than to proclaim the will of the Father in heaven. Knowing that he was the Son of God made him a missionary. Being called the beloved of God led him to proclaim the God who loved him. Feeling loved by God, he became God’s envoy. At the baptism of Jesus, God felt obliged to give testimony in his favour. With God’s declaration and the descent of the Spirit, Jesus became an apostle of the Father. Now that everyone knew who he was, he had to make God known to all.
We should not forget that we are baptised like Jesus, and baptised in his name. We may have forgotten the day of our baptism, but that does not free us from its consequences. True, the heavens did not open on the day of our baptism, and the people present did not hear God’s voice, but this does not mean that we are not children of God. Today, our contemplation of Jesus, called Son by God himself, and called to preach the Kingdom of God, should help us to recover our lost dignity as sons and daughters, and our mission as witnesses, an honour and a task that we received on the day of our baptism.
If at times we do not feel loved by God, or if often we do not see the Father in the God we invoke, could it be because, unlike Jesus, we have forgotten our mission as sons and daughters, the mission that God entrusts to all whom he recognises as his children on the day of their adoption? If the Kingdom of God does not occupy our hearts and our hands, and if we are not concerned about our Father’s business, we will not feel that we are part of God’s family, though indeed we are. The God of Jesus ceases to be family to those who do not know and do his will. If we are not interested in proclaiming to others what we already are, and if God and his Kingdom do not become present in us, what right have we to complain that God does not treat us as a father should? Anyone who knows he is a son, acts like a son. Only those who love, feel loved. We will know God’s concern for us, and his loving attention, if we make God’s concerns our own. God will not enter fully into our hearts if his Kingdom does not fill our days and our hands are not busy working for his Kingdom. People who are not interested in God will find it difficult to feel that God is interested in them.
We Christians lose a lot of time, maybe even the whole of our lives, if we are interested only in God’s graces and not in his will, in his gifts and not in his Kingdom. If all we want is for God to show us his goodness, and we want it more from day to day, we will not feel his love. The Son has no doubt about the Father’s care for him, and he is concerned about the family business without expecting a salary in return. If we paid a bit more attention to what we ought to do to make the Father better known, loved, respected and praised, we would be transformed into his beloved children. This is what Jesus did and this is what we are contemplating today. We, on the other hand, lose interest in God and the things of God, and yet we expect him to care for us. Jesus was not satisfied with just being the Son of God. He did not go on living in anonymity nor did he cling to his dignity. He acknowledged God as his Father and made him known, as he proclaimed God’s Kingdom to his listeners.
Let us contemplate Jesus. He is our heaven opened and the voice of our God, his beloved Son. We see in him what we are called to be – children of God and missionaries sent by the Father. We will be his children if we become his witnesses. God does not expect us to work miracles or prodigies but only to have the courage to proclaim him as our Father. If we make our own the mission of Jesus, God will recognise us as his children. If we tell the world that we have God as our Father, we will become his beloved children. Could we hope for anything better, with so little effort on our part?