Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 13 Janury 2013
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 29:1-4, 9-10; Acts 10:34-38; Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
In all four Gospels it is Jesus’ baptism by John which ushers in Jesus’ public ministry. Luke’s way of recounting the event is striking: he doesn’t actually give us the scene where Jesus is baptised, but instead zooms in on Jesus at prayer after his baptism. John the Baptist isn’t even in the picture, but off to one side in the reader’s imagination. The Gospel reading begins with a few verses from earlier in the chapter which show that Luke’s treatment of the baptism resonates with John’s own sense of his significance. John the Baptist raised the hopes and the expectations of the people. It was inevitable that their hopes and longings would attach to this charismatic prophet in the wilderness. But John points them away from himself as messenger to look for the One to come, the one for whom he is preparing the way.
Luke makes the moment at which the Spirit descends upon Jesus and the voice from heaven declares his divine sonship a moment when Jesus is at prayer. In this vignette we have several of the key aspects of Luke’s presentation of Jesus throughout the Gospel, a picture which becomes the paradigm for Jesus’ followers in the book of Acts: Jesus is a person who prays and is empowered by the Holy Spirit. Note the words that are spoken by the voice from heaven. At this significant juncture, when Jesus is emerging into the public gaze, the words of commissioning are not about what he is to do, but declare who he is and that he is loved. Jesus ministry will not be about trying to please God or to earn God’s favour – it begins from the point of unconditional acceptance and approval as God’s child. Jesus’ ministry is the living out of this reality in an often hostile world.
The question then arises: the Son of what kind of God? Jesus will go from the high point of his baptism and divine affirmation into the period of testing in the wilderness where he will grapple with what it will mean to live out his vocation as Son of God. There another voice will suggest a way to live out the calling. But Jesus will reject each suggestion, however appealing, because he knows that is not what God is like. Psalm 29 proclaims God as a great and glorious king whose voice thunders over the waters. And yet God’s servant, according to the prophet Isaiah, doesn’t shout to make himself heard or break a bruised reed. Here we have the paradoxical meekness and majesty which characterises God-with-us. Peter reminds us in his sermon in Acts 10 that Jesus’ power is real. He demolishes strongholds and sets people free. He gives sight to the blind so that we may see ourselves as we are, dearly loved children of God.