The first reading is part of the second Suffering Servant Song. These songs reveal the Messiah’s characteristics and proclaim the meaning of Jesus’ Passion. Jesus will pour out the Holy Spirit to give life to the many. He will do this not as an outsider, but by embracing our “form as slave.” By taking death upon Himself, He gives us His own Spirit of Life. Even the Psalm speaks of a new sacrifice – obeying God’s will which will eventually make Him the Lamb of Sacrifice on the Cross. By Jesus’ death and resurrection, we too are invited to join Christ in a similar fashion which can bring us to Eternal Life.
While we would be expecting a Gospel from Matthew, the Church has decided to give St. John the Evangelist’s version of the Baptism of Jesus. While John the Evangelist does not say who told John the Baptist to baptize with water, whoever it was, perhaps an angel, told him to do it so that he could identify the Messiah, “When you see the Spirit descend and rest on someone, it is He Who is to baptize with the Holy Spirit.”
When we look at Isaiah’s, John the Baptist’s and Paul’s call, we also recognize a humility in that all of them do not let their calling go to their heads. They remained humble and accepted the challenge of their unique vocations to live their lives as servants of God. They are quick to point out that they are not God, but suffering servants. Also, they recognize that it was God Who chose them through no merit of their own.
John the Evangelist gives a much different rendition of Jesus’ baptism. He does not even mention it. It is not as dramatic as hearing the words of God the Father like we did last week in Matthew’s Gospel. But it still shows the Holy Spirit coming down, like a dove, upon Jesus. Unlike the call of Isaiah, John the Baptist and Paul, the Holy Spirit’s visible manifestation is merely for our benefit. John the Evangelist even repeats another theme of his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Jesus was never separated from the Holy Spirit and the Father, but we cannot see supernatural things. We can only experience them through signs – especially the Sacraments.
John calls Jesus “the Lamb of God.” Each day, while the Temple of Jerusalem was standing, a lamb was sacrificed in the morning and the evening to atone for the sins of the people. Already Jesus’ role is being made known. Jesus’ words to Pilate, “I was born for this, I came into the world for this, to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice”
takes on a greater significance when Jesus’ baptism is recalled.
When the early Christians celebrated Pentecost, they did not celebrate it as the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, but rather as the new presence of Jesus “according to the Spirit.” Our experience with the Holy Spirit will never have the force that Jesus exhibited, but we can share in this power of the Holy Spirit working through us by the gifts entrusted to us to build up the Church. There is one proviso: provided we cooperate with God’s grace and His will for us, particularly in how we use these gifts. Even these gifts can be perverted by our own wills.