Our celebration of the Baptism of the Lord moves our focus from the birth of Jesus to his ministry, wherein Jesus was revealed as the face of the Father’s mercy.
Jesus constantly referred to himself as the servant who had come not to be served, but to serve and give his life for others. He calls us to live our lives, not as masters, but as servants to the vulnerable and needy. The language that Jesus used of himself echoed the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom my soul delights. I have endowed him with my spirit, that he may bring true justice to the nations.”
The mercy revealed in Jesus began with the Holy Spirit. Through that same Holy Spirit, we, together with Jesus, become those in whom the Father delights. The Spirit entrusted to Jesus was to become the fulfilment of the mercy and compassion promised for Isaiah’s servant. “He does not cry out or shout aloud, or make his voice heard in the streets. He does not break the crushed reed, nor quench the wavering flame.”
Pride vindicates itself by force, a force that is deaf to the cries of the needy. The servant foretold by Isaiah, and fulfilled in Jesus, would follow a different pattern. He would, in the words of Isaiah, speak with a listening tongue. The cries of a broken world would be neither crushed nor quenched.
He would “open the eyes of the blind, free captives from prison, and those who live in darkness from the dungeon”. The ministry of Isaiah’s Servant would be revealed in the mercy and compassion of Jesus. Such was the ministry entrusted to him at his baptism. He, in his turn, would baptise his Church “with the Holy Spirit and fire”. The baptism of Cornelius, the first gentile baptised by Peter, demonstrated that the Father’s mercy reaches beyond the narrow boundaries that divide us. Sinful pride divides and denies a mercy that reconciles.
Through his baptism, and its mercy unlocked in us through the Holy Spirit, Christ brings mercy to a broken world.
In the words of Peter at the baptism of Cornelius, “God had anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and because God was with him, Jesus went about doing good and curing all who had fallen into the power of evil.”
We have been baptised in the Holy Spirit and with power, the power to become the messengers of the Father’s mercy.
This article first appeared in the January 8 2016 issue of The Catholic Herald. To download the entire issue for free with our new app, go here