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Wrestling with the Word, episode 55: Baptism of our Lord: First Sunday after Epiphany, Year C (January 10, 2010) January 3, 2010

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Baptism of our Lord: First Sunday after Epiphany
We have finished celebrating Jesus’ birth. During that twelve-day party, we sang appropriate songs about Jesus as Son of God and as truly human, like us. Today we begin the season of Epiphany, a word that means “revealing.” The season will last four more weeks, and during that time, we will hear stories that reveal who Jesus was and what God sent Jesus to do. We begin the season with Jesus’ baptism, a story that announces his identity. It tells us how intimately Jesus shares his story with us, how profoundly he became one of us, and how the same Spirit that defined him also defines us.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 55: Baptism of our Lord: First Sunday after Epiphany, Year C.


Psalm 29
The psalm is a hymn of praise that extols the majesty and glory of God in the language of a tumultuous storm. Borrowing much imagery and even precise wording from Ugaritic poetry about Baal, the psalmist celebrates the enthronement of YHWH over the watery chaos (“the flood”). The call goes out to the divine court to join in the praise to YHWH. The majestic splendor defines the basis for the plea that YHWH render strength and salvation to the people of Israel.


Isaiah 43:1-7
To the people who feel that God has forsaken them, the Lord announces that through the special relationship they have because God created them, the Lord will save them from their exile.

Within the context of the preaching of Second Isaiah, the theological problem of exile is the apparent forsakenness of God (see 40:27; 49:14). That absence led many people to abandon the God of their ancestors in favor of the deities of Babylon, the place of their captivity. The immediate context places the pericope after a speech in which the exiled people pour out their lament to the Lord who has poured out wrath on the people because of their sin. While their lament is as bad as it appears, the people do not recognize the part they played in leading to the judgment.

Key Words
V. 1. YHWH bōra’akâ ya‘aqōb weyōtserkâ yisrā’ēl = “the Lord who created you, O Jacob, and who formed you, O Israel”: Thus far in the collection of Second Isaiah, YHWH has been identified as “the Creator of the ends of the earth” (40:28) and as the one “who created the heavens” (42:5). Here the notion of the Creator of a people is a new twist to an old creation theme and intimately connects the people to YHWH (v. 15).

Vv. 1, 5. ’al-tîrā’ = “Do not fear”: The command is typical when God approaches human beings because standing in the presence of God can and should be terrifying. Here the reasons given for not fearing are (1) “I have redeemed you” (acted as your gō’ēl) and (2) “I am with you” (the promise made to Jacob, Moses, Gideon, Jeremiah — all individuals). Here the Lord assures the divine presence as the people “pass through the waters” (cf. Ps. 66:12) and during their return home (cf. Gen. 28:15).

V. 4. mē’ašer yāqartā be‘ênay nikbadtā wa’anî ’ahabtîkā = “Because you are precious in my sight and honored, and as for me, I love you”: The motive for the Lord’s salvation act is divine love; recall the reason God chose Israel in the first place at Deut. 7:6-7.

V. 7. welikbôdî berā’tîv = “and for my glory I created him”: While the motive for the salvation is God’s love for Israel, the goal of it is the glorification of YHWH; cf. 43:21; 48:11.


Acts 8:14-17
In order to avoid a constant schism between Jewish Christians and Samaritan Christians, the apostles confirm the unity of the church through the gift of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of their hands.

Luke had reported the dispersion of Christians throughout Judea and Samaria because of the persecutions of which Saul was a part. This scattering led Philip to go to a city in Samaria where the people saw his healing miracles, heard his proclamation of the message about Jesus, and were baptized into the faith.


Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Having been baptized and during the act of prayer, Jesus received the gift of the Holy Spirit while simultaneously hearing the announcement that he was the Son of God.

Like Mark and Matthew, Luke introduces John the Baptist and his preaching prior to the baptism of Jesus. Unlike the other two synoptics, however, Luke tries to place all his information about John in one place and therefore mentions his imprisonment by Herod Agrippa in v. 20. When Luke then speaks of the baptism of Jesus, he uses the passive voice without specifically mentioning “by John” as do Matthew and Mark. One might imagine that Mark’s brief account of the baptism led many to ask why John would have baptized Jesus when Jesus was without sin. Matthew dealt with the matter by having Jesus say, “for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15), but Luke avoided the problem by failing to mention John’s role in the baptism at all.

Key Words
V. 22. su ei huios mou ho agapētos = “you are my son, the beloved”: The first part of the expression is reminiscent of Ps. 2:7, words said to the Davidic king on the day of his coronation. The use of “beloved” with huios occurs in the LXX only at Gen. 22:2, 12, 16 where it refers to Isaac at the point of his imminent sacrifice by his father Abraham. Luke follows Mark in making this heavenly address directly to Jesus, while Matthew makes it an address to all those standing by. While Mark and Matthew virtually repeat the words at the Transfiguration, Luke changes the word “beloved” to “chosen” (ho eklelegmenos) at 9:35.

V. 22. en soi eudokēsa = “in you I am pleased”: The expression recalls Isa. 42:1 where the Lord introduces the Servant with these words, thus making the connection between Jesus and the Servant of Second Isaiah. It is interesting to note that some manuscripts, above all Western manuscript D, omit this expression in favor of “today I have given you birth.” This reading eliminates the servant image in favor of added emphasis on the royal theme of Ps. 2:7.