Meditation of the week

Called by name

Mt 3,13-17.

The baptism of Jesus is the major preparatory event leading up to the beginning of his public ministry. John has been preaching in the Judean wilderness and people are flocking to him to be baptised with a view to changing their old lives and beginning to commit themselves to God and his ways. Here, for the first time, (in Matthew’s gospel), John and Jesus meet; the one who baptises with water for repentance, and the other who baptises with the Holy Spirit and fire for a new way of life.

They meet as Jesus presents himself before John for baptism. John is taken aback and tries to prevent it happening. He is right in saying that it is he who should be baptised by Jesus and not the other way about, which Jesus wants. “Fulfilling all righteousness” means doing God’s saving will and plan which governs his whole ministry. Jesus wants to identify with sinners by receiving their baptism in the hope that they will come to him for the message of eternal life. John now understands Jesus’ intentions and accedes to his request for baptism.

Jesus came out of the waters, and immediately after the baptism, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him, like a dove. The opening of the heavens fulfils the prayer of  Isaiah 64,1 which pleads for God to show his power with a wonder more wonderful than at Sinai: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” But, here, a new creation is signalled.  The descending Spirit like a dove is reminiscent of the Spirit of God which hovered, (like  doves do), over the waters at the beginning of Creation. (Genesis Ch1,2).  Jesus’ baptism, and the coming of the Holy Spirit upon him, marks the beginning of the new creation. He is anointed with the Holy Spirit for his new messianic mission which is confirmed by the heavenly voice identifying him as God’s own beloved Son, – referring back to Psalm 2,7, which speaks of the anointed king, and is  clearly a messianic text. The second part of the heavenly saying “in whom I am well pleased” refers to the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 42,1. The Suffering Servant appears later in Isaiah 53, taking on mankind’s sins and atoning for them without as much as a word of objection or complaint, as Jesus would do later on the Cross.

The rest of Matthew’s gospel will narrate Jesus’ story under these three rubrics: Son, Saviour and Messiah.

Lumen Gentium ( the  Vatican II document on the Church) affirms that all of us baptised  are “by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, consecrated to be a spiritual house and a holy priesthood,” called to offer prayer and praise to God and witness to Christ  by our lives of faith and love. (Art 10).

We become God’s beloved, adopted, sons and daughters, members of his family and destined to share in his kingdom if we but accept his invitation to follow His Son.

What happened at Jesus’ baptism happens at our baptism too. God calls us by name.

Fr Geoff O’Grady