Baptism of the Lord: the Perfection of Justice
- Isaiah 42: 1-4, 6-7. In this first song of the Suffering Servant within the prophesy of Isaiah, God summons his chosen one to bring forth justice to the nations, quietly, considerately.
- Acts 10: 34-38. Peter instructs the first gentile converts beginning with Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist when he was anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power.
- Matthew 3:13-17. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River, the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus proclaiming “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Thoughts for your Consideration:
This week our Church celebrates the Baptism of the Lord. In celebrating this event we are observing a number of important moments for our faith tradition. We celebrate the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. This beginning is marked in two ways which testifies to Jesus’ humanity (the baptism by John) and his divinity (the anointment by the Holy Spirit). We also acknowledge the foundation for the rite of baptism and confirmation as important sacraments of the Church and in our lives. We also observe the importance of John the Baptist and his prophetic role in preparing the way of the Lord.
But if we reflect on three readings together then we are confronted with another element that must be observed with this amazing event: Jesus’ ministry is grounded within the prophetic tradition. Isaiah’s suffering servant songs offer a resume for the anointed messiah. In this passage that we read today Isaiah reminds us that this resume fulfills the prophetic call for justice:
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;
Isaiah tells us two things in this passage. First he tells us about the mission of the “suffering servant” in bringing forth social justice. He describes this mission as having a liberating effect to all of God’s people. Peter, in the second reading, receives his own epiphany by realizing that “God shows no partiality.” The people of God are not defined by a particular ethnicity or creed, and the gentile converts force Peter to recognize the universal extant of this liberating call to justice. The second thing that Isaiah tells us is the way in which the “suffering servant” will conduct this mission. He describes a nonviolent and humble approach in bringing about this call to justice. The “suffering servant” will not bestow justice with a firm hand or with harsh punishment; instead justice will be applied with mercy, humility and gentleness. Peter describes this in terms of simply being good and bringing about healing.
Baptism and confirmation does not make us good. By virtue of being created by a good God we and all creation are designated as good (Gen. 1:31). Baptism instead consecrates us to a life of perfect goodness. For us Catholics confirmation offers us the added grace of being anointed by the Holy Spirit which will aid us in the pursuit of perfect goodness. Justice is a virtue that belongs to all who seek the good. Justice was pursued not only by the prophets before Christ but also by every human civilization that ever existed. But through Christ we have been given the perfect model for our humanity and for our mission to pursue justice and all that is good.
You have heard that it was said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also… Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Mt. 5: 38-39, 48)
This call to perfect goodness challenges us to adopt an ethic of peace and nonviolence in promoting social justice. The call to nonviolence is not a call to passivity. Instead we are still called to promote what is just and fair but our means are limited since they require us to apply mercy, respect and gentleness in addressing the injustice that we face. As we consider the social injustices and conflicts in our world let us reflect on our baptismal calling to model the “suffering servant” in our pursuit of perfect justice.