Baptism of the Lord, Feast. Words of THE WORD

ANTIPHON
After the Lord was baptized, the heavens were opened, and the Spirit descended upon Him like a dove, and the voice of the Father thundered: this is my Beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleaced. (Matthew 3:16-17)


COLLECT
Almighty ever-living God,
Who, when Christ had been baptized
in the River Jordan and
as the Holy Spirit descended upon Him,
solemnly declared Him your beloved Son,
grant that your children by adoption,
reborn of water and the Holy Spirit,
may always be well pleasing to you.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.


RESPONSORIAL PSALM (click for full Psalm)
“The Lord will bless his people with peace (Psalm 29: 11).”


SCRIPTURE EXCERPT (click for all readings)
“Thus says the LORD:
Here is my servant (עַבְד ʿebed) whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
upon whom I have put my spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations,
not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
a bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching.
(Isaiah 42:1-4)”


REFLECTION
Tradition numbers them at four and names them variously as “Songs of the Servant,” “Suffering Servant Songs” or the “Servant Songs,” to cite only three examples. Contained in chapters 42, 49, 50 and 52-53 of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, the precise identity of the person (or persons, although servant is singular in these text) is unknown which has given rise to many theories and insights throughout the centuries. While certainly significant within the Jewish experience and Canon of Sacred Scripture, Christian reflection on these prophetic texts have seen deep Christological meaning involving not only Jesus’ Mission but also His self-identity.
Writing in the later part of the fourth century, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus wrote in his Theological Oration: On the Son: “Next is the fact of his being called Servant and serving many well, and that it is a great thing for him to be called the Child of God. For in truth he was in servitude to flesh and to birth and to the conditions of our life with a view to our liberation, and to that of all those whom he has saved, who were in bondage under sin. What greater destiny can befall humanity’s humble state than that it should be intermingled with God and by this intermingling should be deified, and that we should be so visited by the Dayspring from on high, that even that holy thing that should be born should be called the Son of the Highest, and that there should be bestowed on him a name that is above every name? And what else can this be than God? – And that every knee should bow to him that was made of no reputation for us, and that mingled the form of God with the form of a servant, and that “all the house of Israel should know that God has made him both Lord and Christ”? For all this was done by the action of the Begotten and by the good pleasure of him that begat him.”


Once again the richness of the biblical languages contributes to deeper insights of the Sacred Text. No doubt, images and meanings of a servant come to mind. Yet in Isaiah’s day, the root for the word servant (עֶבֶד ʿebed) is derived from עָבַד (ʿabad) which has broad meanings including “to serve,” “to worship (the same verb is used in Exodus when Moses asks Pharaoh to let the people go that they may worship the Lord in the desert),” and “to till the ground (the same verb is used in Genesis 2 to describe the uniqueness of human labor).” While עֶבֶד (ʿebed) does express the reality of ‘being bonded to another’ or ‘working in the service or employ of another person,’ fundamentally עֶבֶד (ʿebed) is about work, and interestingly the ‘work’ of tilling the earth.
On this Feast of our Lord’s Baptism, the first of Isaiah’s “Servant Songs” is most helpful in gaining insight into a primal Gospel question, ‘Who is Jesus?’ While images, perceptions and expectations of a first-century Messiah tended to focus more on a military leader, Jesus’ Self-presentation to the crowds who followed Him was that of a servant in the sense of Isaiah’s usage. His was consistently the life of one ‘bonded to another’ – His heavenly Father. Throughout His ministry, Jesus continuously pointed “the way” to His Father and His Father’s way of living: the Kingdom of God. As Son, faithful to His Father’s Mission, Jesus tilled the soil of the human heart that each may receive the water of the Holy Spirit that washes us clean from sin that our relationship with the Father may deepen and mature. As Son, Jesus faithfully lives a life of worship, dependent upon His Father for everything and giving His Father praise and glory in all that He during His life among us then and now.