ColumnsSunday’s Word

The baptism of Jesus

January 12, 2020


Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7

The First Servant Song

Psalm 29:1-4, 3, 9-10

The Voice of the Lord in the storm

Acts 10:34-38

Peter’s message to Cornelius

Matthew 3:13-17

The Baptism of Jesus


We might not notice that the gospel is quoting the first reading for today. But a key line is repeated:

Isaiah 42:1 — Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased,

Matthew 3:3 — “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Tag lines, like that in italics here, are typical of the way the Bible cross-references from one passage to another. We are to think of the two passages as connected. And we are to connect the entire Old Testament passage with the New. These are not simply similar words.

The relationship between these two readings in an example. The heavenly voice in the Gospel is simply quoting the Old Testament. And the quotation involves at least two passages—Isaiah 42:1, as above, along with Psalm 2:7—

“The Lord said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have become your father.’”

On the one hand, Psalm 2 announces the coming of the Messiah King, although it imagines a dominating, militant conqueror: “You will break them with a rod of iron” (Ps 2:9). But the invocation of Isaiah 42 modifies (and even reverses) the proclamation of the psalm with the image of the suffering servant of Yahweh, concerning whom “a bruised reed he shall not break.”

Accordingly, Matthew begins his account with Emmanuel images of a glorified king (Matt 1:23; 4:15-16), but he soon shifts his focus to the Servant. Quotations from the servant songs are invoked to characterize the public life of Jesus (Matt 8:17; 12:18-21). The second of these notably, quotes the entirety of the first Servant song — today’s first reading.  Though we should note that today’s selection goes beyond the song, Isaiah 42:1-4, by adding vv. 6-7.

As for the announcement of the baptism voice, Matthew’s account differs from Mark, which was his source for this story.  Where Mark’s gospel says, “You are my beloved son,” Matthew changes the grammar to “This is my beloved son.” Matthew shows the voice addressing those present.” In Mark, this event serves as the call of Jesus to his mission. Here in Matthew it represents an announcement to the onlookers concerning that mission of the chosen one.

Psalm 29, our response for today is one of the more ancient psalms. It pictures a storm moving east from the Mediterranean, across the forests of Lebanon, and on out to the desert. As Baal was a storm god, it is thought to have originated as a Canaanite hymn, and “baptized” for Israelite consumption. The expression, “The voice of the LORD over the waters,” suggesting the heavenly voice of Jesus’ baptism, no doubt is what recommends it for today’s celebration.

The second reading, from Acts 10, is the last of Peter’s “kerygma” speech, which he characteristically delivers in this book (Acts 2:22-38; 3:12-16; 4:10-12; 5:29-32; 10:36-43). In this final version, he emphasizes the role of John the Baptist, which is what brings it to today’s liturgy. Luke, the author of Acts, show the Holy Spirit driving the early church out into the world. Here he is interested in connecting the Peter’s message to Jesus’ baptism, when the Spirit descended on Jesus.

Today’s readings highlight different aspects of the Baptism event. Peter brings out the role of the Holy Spirit, which role continues into the time of the church. The voice of God, emphasized in the psalm, appears in the baptism event quoting scripture, specifically Psalm 2 and Isaiah 42. Jesus is identified as the coming Messiah, but not in the form that was generally expected. Instead, we have the Servant of the Lord, who suffers rather than causing suffering, and who brings healing in the cause of peace.

For reflection: Jesus’ baptism is the inauguration of his public life.

Father Beck is professor emeritus of religious studies at Loras College, Dubuque.