The liturgical readings shift focus now, and we are confronted with the image not of a child but of a full-grown man. The revelation now is not so much who is this person but rather what he has come to do.
More than likely, in the mind of the prophet Isaiah the imagery of the servant of God was meant to apply not so much to any one particular person but rather to all of Israel. But the Gospel authors change that. In the baptism narrative each of them takes that image and applies it to the person of Christ. It is he in whom the Father is well pleased and on whom his spirit rests. Everything that had been promised in Isaiah’s prophecy, Christ would take upon himself to do.
And so, he did. Christ chose to save the world, to institute the new kingdom, not by calling on the power and majesty of God’s son, but rather by confronting the world with the gentleness of Isaiah’s servant, by saying to the world and to everyone in it for the first time, “I won’t hurt you. I want nothing for you but your own good.” And he pursued that good with all of the tools and skills of gentleness. Tools and skills like faithfulness, fidelity, and patience. A willingness to wait patiently and calmly, without fear or anger, when it seemed that very little was going the way he might have wished. Christ, after all, during his own lifetime saw very little progress made in what he came to do. For every follower he gained, he made a couple of enemies. And while his followers were among the poor and the weak, his enemies were usually among the rich and powerful.
Such was the Baptism of Christ. A baptism into the role of the servant of God, a role of gentleness, of endurance, and of joyful confidence. And such certainly is our Baptism as well. To what extent are our lives marked by that same gentleness? I think our Baptism calls us to reflect very seriously on the violence that we heap on one another in so many ways…with words, for one. Gossip, criticism, ridicule. The violence of our attitudes, our values.
Any attitude that really says to another in any way, “You don’t really matter very much” or any attitudes that allows us to sacrifice the peace of mind, the well-being of any other person in order to bolster our own sense of well-being, is violent.
So let us today, and as many times as it takes, renew our acceptance of our own Baptism and our resolve to live it out as gently, as patiently, and as publicly as did Christ. And let us do so utterly confident that it works. In our Baptism the Spirit has settled on us and the Father has told us, “What the Spirit will make of you pleases me.” That is all that matters.