FIRST SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY: THE BAPTISM OF OUR LORD
Another reading from “Second Isaiah,” who wrote in Babylon celebrating the news that the Jews will be sent home. This is the first of a series of poems called the “Servant Songs.” The servant is a personification of those Jews who, while suffering cruel slavery, remained faithful to their God. In the songs, the servant will eventually be subject to every insult and abuse, as were the enslaved Jews. In our passage from the poem, we are told of God’s choosing this servant and commissioning him to be “a light to all people.” No passage in the Old Testament evokes a figure so close to the Christian idea of the suffering Jesus. Consequently, Christians take the Servant Songs to be a prophecy of Christ.
Notice that verse 5 is a mini creation story. There are a number of such creation accounts scattered through the Old Testament.
Acts, a story of the early Church, is generally thought to be by Luke, a sequel to his gospel. Though it is often called a history of early Christianity, it is better thought of as a history of the Holy Spirit, as Luke understood the Holy Spirit. A major theme is the overcoming of parochialism among the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem and the decision of Peter and Paul to take the gospel to gentiles. Here Peter addresses Cornelius, a Roman Centurion (Captain of a hundred men), who has been told in a vision to call Peter. What we hear today is Peter’s short sermon to the Centurion, a summary of the gospel beginning with Jesus’s baptism and ending with his judgment of the living and the dead. The Centurion will declare his faith, and Peter will baptize him and his household—the first baptism of gentiles.
© Arthur H. Cash