Lectionary Reflection: Baptism of the Lord: Isaiah 43:1-7; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

This Sunday is the feast of the baptism of Jesus.  The Lucan account, which comprises the gospel reading for the day offers us two perspectives on Jesus.   As John the Baptist sees things, Jesus, the mightier one who comes after him, primarily comes as a judge.   The role of Jesus is to baptize with fire, to purge Israel as part of her renewal before God.  John seems quite satisfied to be the herald for this coming judge, the one who will make John’s own penitential brand of water baptism seem gentle by comparison.  We should not think that John was filled with resentment, eager to see people punished.  Rather, John longed for this one who would baptize with fire because he longed for the renewal of Israel.  This renewal would require the apocalyptic unveiling of God’s righteous judgment. 
The second view of Jesus’ baptism comes directly from God as the heavens open, the Spirit descends and a voice from heaven proclaims, “You are my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”  From John’s perspective, this moment served to confirm his hope that Jesus was indeed the agent of God’s apocalyptic judgment.  John was so committed to this view of Jesus, that when Jesus does not do the things John was expecting he sends messengers to question Jesus.   He is clearly disappointed and confused by Jesus’ ministry.
The passage from Isaiah paired with today’s gospel offers us a much more accurate picture of the ministry on which Jesus embarks at his baptism.  Isaiah offers us a vision of God’s relentless ingathering of the people of God.  Rather than purifying through a purge as John anticipates, Isaiah presents God’s passionate pursuit of the people of God,  “’Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you’; I will say to the North, ‘Give them up’, and to the south, ‘Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth– everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made’.”
When John sends his messengers question Jesus they find him doing precisely this type of gathering of the people of God.  Jesus never directly answers John’s question about whether he really is the one who is to come.  Instead, he points to what he is doing, “’Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them’.”(Luke 7:22 ESV).
Isaiah invites us to see Jesus’ baptism as the beginning of this ingathering of the people of God beginning with those directly in need of healing and restoration.  As we follow this ministry on through Epiphany, Lent, and finally to the cross, when so much doubt is cast on Jesus and his ministry, we should also remember the voice from heaven confirming that God is well pleased.  We hear that voice directly here at the baptism, and God decisively confirms this in the resurrection.

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