Homily  Baptism of the Lord Year C: Fr. Michael U. UdoekpoReadings; Isa 42:1-4 or Isa 40:1-5, 9-11; Acts 10:34-38 or Ti 2:11-14; 3:4-7 and Luke 3:15-16, 21-22.
Mission of God’s Servant (In the Year of Mercy)“Thus says the Lord: Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit he shall bring forth justice to the nations”(Isa 42:1ff).
These words of Prophet Isaiah, the first song of the suffering servant of God, is indirectly repeated in today’ Gospel, where a voice from heaven proclaims, “You are my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased” (Luke 3:21-22).
Both of these passages point to the spiritual meaning of what we celebrate today– the Baptism of the Lord, (in this special Jubilee Year of Mercy)! If our Christian baptism washes away our sins, welcomes us, initiates us into that Christian family, as God’s Children–, in this commemorating event of the baptism of Christ, we celebrate the serving grace of God, his mission, which often challenges our missions. We celebrate his atoning power in lives. We celebrate his mercy (in a year of mercy). We celebrate his forgiveness, his humility; his (God) coming concretely to be with us, live among us, Caro factum est, and teaching us how to love, how to practice justice; and how to promote peace in our families, institutions, parishes, diocese, and world today! It is a celebration of the mission of God’s servant- whom we are called to be, and imitate! Christ's mission challenges our missions!
In the first reading, for those following Isaiah 40, Isaiah, the Prophet announces salvation to a people whose hope has been shattered, comfort, home, jobs, freedom denied! How do you feel when your hopes, freedom, comfort, peace are denied you? I am sure, you feel horrible, hopeless, unsafe and unsecured! In Isaiah’s message God is not indifferent to his people. And God will never be indifferent to us today! His covenant stands ever! Israel to whom we all belong has been forgiven. God acts to give concrete expression to his promises and words- a in various stages of history.
In Isaiah 42, God concretely sends his servant. He says, “Here is my servant whom I uphold” (v.1). Who is this servant and to do what? What was his mission? To bring justice and righteousness to the world; to be a light to all nations and cultures, as in the case of Cornelius in the Acts of the Apostles; and as in the case of the visiting Magi in the Christmas story; to reconstruct and not to deconstruct, to build not to destroy, to unite and not to disunite, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from “the dungeon those who live in darkness”.
What a mission! This servant must be truthful and courageous! In Isaiah’s words, He is a bruised and unbreakable reed; a smoldering and unquenchable wick, virtuous, humble, gentle, meek, purposeful, and quiet! This reminds me of my childhood friend, whose nickname was and still is “Unbreakable.” Very strong young man, physically and spiritually, no matter the challenges and deficits in life, be it illnesses, low grades in examinations, hunger, lies told against him, or loss of his parents at childhood, this friend of mine remained strong, and “unbreakable.”!
But, who might this servant be, the bearer of this good news, who will free us, and bring prisoners from dungeons and prisons? There have been many proposals! Was this servant King Cyrus of Persia, that features in Ezra-Nehemiah, whom the Lord inspired to allow the Israelites to return from Persia to rebuild the Temple? Yes, in a sense, for some people! Was this servant the whole Israel, reference in the reading, especially the passage that says,” I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people” the remnant Israel, the covenanted people? Yes, in a sense!
Was this servant with reference to Christ, born for us at Christmas, whose baptism we celebrate today; spoken of by Peter, in the house of Cornelius, in today’s 2nd reading, Acts of the Apostle? Yes of course! Peter says, “You know the word sent to the Israelites to proclaim peace, through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. Without partiality? Christ mission is for all, male and female, Jews and Gentiles, the poor and the rich, the aged and the young, the youths, the knights, catholic daughters, the catholic son, men, priests and religious1
He is the one that allows himself to be baptized by John in today’s Gospel, Luke Chapter 3. Here, in the Gospel, he is the one that the heavens opens for. He is the one that dove descends upon. He is the one that a voice from heaven addresses as ‘my beloved Son; with whom I am well pleased.”
Soon after this baptism, he is the one who quickly acclaims the mission of the servant, and reads from the very prophet Isaiah, but chapter 61, proclaiming, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind , to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor’(Luke 4:18-19).
In other words, could this servant be all of us! Yes of course. In every facets of our scripture,-search from Genesis to Revelation, it is clear that God can use any of us, from generation to generation. This is what the preacher in the Letter to the Hebrew means when he preaches, “In time past, God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways, by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all through whom he also created the worlds” (Heb 1:1-2).
In today’s baptism, we are God’s sons, daughters and servants called to imitate the ministry and mission of Christ, his love, his sense of unity, his sense of oneness, his sense of forgiveness, his peace and justice, and mercy! This, is the way, the mission that Pope Francis continuously invites everyone to follow, especially in a challenging time of ours, and in this Year of Mercy. In his 2016 New Year Message he vigorously and paternally invites us to “overcome indifference and win peace.”
We know we live in a challenging world of Isis, Boko Haram, terrorism, wars and threats of wars, gun violent and distrust; poverty and abuse of power, pluralism of religion and segregations, but, Just as the God of Israel was never indifferent to Jerusalem plights, in the mission of his servants, may we in this Year of Mercy, and as the baptized never be indifferent to injustices, violent, poverty and challenges of our times. May we as partakers in the sacrament of baptism, in Christ’s mission, continuously pray for ourselves and our neighbors, reach out to the poor, the afflicted, the rejected, the aged, the sick and pray for our nations!