Our readings today began with God saying through the prophet Isaiah:
Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Chosen One in whom My soul delights!
Those words were echoed in our reading from the Gospel of St. Matthew, where the voice of the heavenly Father was heard to proclaim:
This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased.
There can, therefore, be no doubt about the focal point of our celebration today: we must look afresh at, and learn to appreciate more, Jesus our Saviour, God’s chosen Servant in Whom His soul delights, the Father's beloved, sent-among-us, Son.
Notice first of all, that whereas John the Baptist pointed out Jesus to some of his disciples by telling them of the mission Jesus would fulfil (John 1:29):
Behold, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world;
at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, however, the Father does not reveal Jesus to us by saying "this is your Saviour" or any other such words indicating what Jesus was going to do for us; far from that, and infinitely more than that, He proclaims the very Person of Jesus, and, in doing so, reveals His own Self, with the words:
This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased!
With that proclamation the Father gives us a glimpse of the very essence of Divine Life and Beatitude in which the Father and Son are eternally One in the Holy Spirit of Love; and, by manifesting His Own sheer delight in His Son made flesh, He thereby invites us also to delight in Jesus to our utmost; not simply, nor even primarily, because of what He does on our behalf, but because of Who He is, among us.
Since -- in the process of canonization -- it has to be shown that candidates had practiced Christian virtues to a heroic degree, it might easily be thought that holiness demands, first of all, the practice of virtues; and, under that impression, some devout but misguided people regard the spiritual life as a matter of consulting, compiling, drawing up, a list of virtues to be given special attention -- one by one -- until, hopefully, all are mastered; while always, of course, rejecting sin and avoiding the slightest occasion thereof. Such zeal, however, is very Pharisaic: is not only mistaken in its appreciation of Christian spirituality, in which -- as the very word itself proclaims -- the Spirit should lead us to, along the way of, Jesus; it is also dis-figured by over-reliance on human cogitations and endeavours, thereby projecting an impersonal, most unattractive, perhaps even inhumane, picture of the Christian spiritual life of love for God in Jesus.
In truth, Christian holiness cannot be characterized by anything other than a delighting in God, above all and in all. The practice of virtues and avoidance of evil should flow freely and unconstrainedly from that transforming and transcending love as the ‘unconscious’ fruit of a P/personal relationship which fills one’s life.
First of all, therefore, we must want, seek, and pray to appreciate the Person of Jesus shown us, given to us for us, by the Father; and then, in Jesus and by the power of His Spirit, we should try to recognize, appreciate, and respond to, the Father Himself, so that we begin to share in Jesus' own love for the Father. Only in that way can we fulfil our calling to become true disciples of Jesus, and in Him, true children of the Father, by the Spirit.
In our endeavour to appreciate Jesus, therefore, let us turn back our attention to the prophet Isaiah who told us, in the first reading, about the Servant:
Behold! My Servant Whom I uphold, My Chosen One in Whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles.
And then let us recall what Peter told us in the second reading:
You know how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power.
Both passages clearly relate to St. Matthew’s account in today’s Gospel reading of Jesus' experience on the occasion of His baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist:
When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.
Now, John had not wanted to baptize Jesus, as you heard:
John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?"
Jesus, however, insisted; He had come to do His Father's will -- that is, "all righteousness" -- which meant that His life could not be lived in accordance with merely human standards, nor could it be thought subject to human judgements, not even those of one so holy as John the Baptist:
Jesus answering said to him, "Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness."
Isaiah had foretold what mission the Father had in mind for Jesus:
He will bring forth justice to the Nations.
Few words, indeed, but full of meaning, because the prophet’s "justice" means God's truth and love, God’s own righteousness, to be fulfilled in us and in our lives.
Moreover, the prophet foretold how the Servant would go about His work, and so, indirectly, gave us some idea about what sort of person the Servant would prove to be:
He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street.
He will not, Isaiah says, take advantage of simple people by bombast, nor indulge in any haranguing of emotional crowds; He will proclaim His message of justice and truth calmly, and with full respect for His hearers.
Isaiah went on to show us another engaging aspect of God's Chosen Servant, when he said:
A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench.
And so, though anointed with the Spirit and with power, Jesus would be characterized, the prophet said, by gentleness and respect; and this St. Peter confirmed in our second reading when he said:
He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.
Nevertheless, since Jesus had been given the mission to bring forth true justice on earth, He would inevitably meet with opposition in a sinful world, and this prospect led Isaiah to give another characteristic of the Chosen Servant and Beloved Son:
He will not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice in the earth.
And so, though -- in His gentleness and respect -- neither breaking what was bruised nor extinguishing what might still dimly glow, the Servant’s anointing with the Spirit and with power will not allow Him to be either disheartened or crushed by His painful experiences of life in a sinful world. He will face trials similar to those we now encounter in our daily lives, and indeed others far greater and more testing than any we will ever know, but He will live through them as the Servant obedient in all things to the Lord, as the Son, in all things loving, and witnessing to, His Father. In that way Jesus will be like us, one with us and able to understand us; and yet, for all that, He will be unique, the only One to faithfully bring forth justice and fulfil all righteousness, the One Who will neither fail nor falter in His mission:
‘till He has established justice in the earth.
And that, People of God, means that Jesus will never give up in His endeavours to enable us to recognise and appreciate the Father's goodness and love, and to raise us up -- by His Spirit -- to become more worthy children of such a Father.
Today there are many who try to proclaim the love of Jesus us by telling us how much He empathizes with us in our sufferings because He too has suffered; how His whole longing and aim is to bring us comfort and release, joy, peace and love, now. And they leave it at that, being unwilling or afraid to speak of any further suffering to be borne or efforts to be made by those who want to belong to God. And that is a travesty of the full truth: a travesty which, though pleasing to hear, is deadly in its effects, for it is a half-truth that would leave us no longer looking up to heaven but resting here on earth.
The true Jesus, the Scriptures tell us:
Will not fail nor be discouraged ‘till He has established justice in the earth
that is, true justice in the hearts and minds, the lives and loves of you and me, and all others like us throughout the whole world who will listen to His Good News and gradually learn to fight the good fight here on earth while hoping for, and aspiring to, a new, eternal, home being prepared for us in heaven.
People of God, we are not always ready, perhaps not even always willing, to lift our eyes to heaven, because the devil both abuses our weakness and hides our ignorance so that we do not know our own needs, nor do we want to see our own failings. But Isaiah tells us clearly in the name of the Lord:
I will appoint You (My Servant) as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Nations, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon, and those who sit in darkness from the prison.
Though we are all blind and prisoners to a greater or lesser degree, let us not -- through pride – reject, or -- in fear -- turn away from, God's gift of a Saviour, because He intends to free us from our sins and enlighten our ignorance by drawing us, as the prophet Hosea said:
With gentle cords, with bands of love. (Hosea 11:4)
Or, as Jeremiah (31:3-4) told us in even more striking words:
I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have drawn you with lovingkindness. Again I will build you and you will be rebuilt.
Therefore, People of God, let us resolve this very day to allow God to rebuild our lives as He seeks to draw us in the Spirit -- with bands of love -- to Jesus; in and from Whom we can learn to appreciate, and to love more and more, the Father revealing Himself to us along with Jesus, as the Gospel proclaimed:
After Jesus was baptized, He came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened (for Him), and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon Him. And a voice came from the heavens saying, "This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased."