Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Baptism of the Servant: The Readings for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

This Sunday readings continue to examine the significance of Jesus' baptism. Specifically, the readings lead us to consider how Jesus' baptism fulfills the calling of the people of God and how it serves as a kind of revelation for what happens to Christians in their baptism.

Of course, the readers of the Gospels would have also been baptized.  Baptism was clearly recognized as the sacrament of initiation in the early Church (cf., e.g., Rom 6:1; 1 Cor 1:13-17; 1 Cor 12:13; etc.). Jesus' baptism then becomes a kind of portrait of what happens to believers when they receive the sacrament.

But now I'm getting ahead of myself. On to the readings...

FIRST READING: Isaiah 49:3, 5-6
The LORD said to me: You are my servant,
Israel, through whom I show my glory.
Now the LORD has spoken
who formed me as his servant from the womb,
that Jacob may be brought back to him
and Israel gathered to him;
and I am made glorious in the sight of the LORD,
and my God is now my strength!
It is too little, the LORD says, for you to be my servant,
to raise up the tribes of Jacob,
and restore the survivors of Israel;
I will make you a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
The prophet is clearly addressing Israel in the exile. Because of their sin, the twelve tribes were scattered.

Specifically, God addresses the servant as "Israel: "You are my servant, Israel . . . through whom I will show my glory". This ultimately reflects God's commitment to fulfill the promise he made to Abraham. After showing his willingness to offer his only beloved son Isaac, God promised the Patriarch:
“I swear by my very self—oracle of the Lord—that because you acted as you did in not withholding from me your son, your only one, 17 I will bless you and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore; your descendants will take possession of the gates of their enemies, 18 and in your descendants all the nations of the earth will find blessing, because you obeyed my command.” (Genesis 22:16-18; NABRE).
Isaiah's promise then that the servant will be "a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth" makes sense in light of this.

Yet there does seem to be some tension in the identification of the servant. On one level, the servant is "Israel". On another, the servant has been called for the purpose of saving Israel. He explains that he has been "formed. . . from the womb, that Jacob may be brought back to him and Israel gathered to him".

In fact, the Servant will not only "raise up the tribes of Jacob" he also has an international mission: "I will make you a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth"!

How exactly the Servant is Israel and also sent to Israel is unclear. Paul and the Gospel reading, however, offers an explanation. More on that below.

RESPONSORIAL PALM: Psalm 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10
R/ (8a and 9a) Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.I have waited, waited for the LORD,
and he stooped toward me and heard my cry.
And he put a new song into my mouth,
a hymn to our God.
R/ Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.Sacrifice or offering you wished not,
but ears open to obedience you gave me.
Holocausts or sin-offerings you sought not;
then said I, “Behold I come.”
R/ Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.“In the written scroll it is prescribed for me,
to do your will, O my God, is my delight,
and your law is within my heart!”
R/ Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.I announced your justice in the vast assembly;
I did not restrain my lips, as you, O LORD, know.
R/ Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.
The psalm focuses on the individual who has awaited deliverance--much like Israel in exile in the first reading. The focus here, however, is on the fact that salvation comes to those who do the will of God. In other words, God saves his people.

Two interesting tidbits about the last line cited here from the psalm in the Septuagint. First, the phrase "I announced" is translated euangelizō, the verbal form of "euangelion", i.e., Gospel. In other words, the psalmist is declaring "the good news" in the assembly. He is literally, "evangelizing" by sharing his story of how God has has saved him.

Second, the term translated "vast assembly" is translated with the term ekklesia, the Greek word rendered "church" in the New Testament.

In light of these two things we might see how the psalm could be read as proclaiming the good news of God's deliverance in the church's liturgical assembly. In fact, that's just how it is used!

SECOND READING: 1 Corinthians 1:1-3
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
and Sosthenes our brother,
to the church of God that is in Corinth,
to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy,
with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
their Lord and ours.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.
These verses are short but there is a lot here to unpack. 

1. Paul's Ecclesial Thought and the Mention of Sosthenes

Paul begins 1 Corinthians by doing something he often does in his epistles: he mentions a co-worker.
"Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, to the church of God which is at Corinth. . ." (1 Co 1:1–2).
The question of Sosthenes' identity is an extremely interesting one. Is he the same figure who gets beaten in Acts 18? Is he the amanuensis of 1 Corinthians? Frankly, we just can't know the answers here.

What we do know though is nonetheless fascinating: Paul mentions him.

In fact, the letters attributed to Paul frequently include his co-workers in the opening addresses; they are thus listed as co-senders: Timothy, 2 Cor. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col 1:1; Phlm. 1; Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy in 1 Thess. 1:1 and 2 Thess. 1:1.

Why is this worth mentioning? Because this is almost unheard of!

As scholars such Anthony Thiselton and Ernest Richards explain, this hardly ever happens! The mention of a co-sender in the opening of an epistle is exceedingly unusual in ancient Greek letters outside of the Pauline corpus. In his book, The Secretary in the Letters of Paul (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1993), Richards finds only six instances of this in 645 papyrus letters! [p. 47, n. 138].

So why does Paul include a mention of co-senders? I think Anthony Thiselton makes the best suggestion:
"Paul does not perceive himself as commissioned to lead or to minister as an isolated individual, without collaboration with co-workers." (The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text [NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000], 69).
In short, Paul is an ecclesial thinker. Paul is a not a "lone ranger", but works as a member of the household of faith, the community of believers--he is one member of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church.

As Paul explains later in 1 Corinthians,
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. . . . Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. (1 Cor 12:12, 27–28).
 2. "Christ" and "In Christ" 

In these three short verses, Paul mentions "Christ" 4x. The name is obviously significant. But how?

Previous scholarship saw “Christ” seen as simply another name for Jesus or in light of Hellenistic context. More recent scholarship, however, is seeing much more significance in the language. 

Some of the most careful look at the terminology used by Paul has been offered by N.T. Wright.[1] Wright observes that Paul uses to Greek terms in speaking of being "in Christ":  ἐν (“in”) used with “Christ” or “Lord” and virtually never with “Jesus and εἰς (“into”) used always with “Christ”, never with “Jesus” or “Lord”. 

Of course, the term Christ is derived from the Hebrew word meaning “anointed one” or "Messiah". In biblical traditions, the terminology is especially linked with Davidic traditions (cf. Ps 2:2; 1 Sam 23:1; etc.).[2]  Romans 1:3 and 15:23 reveals Paul’s awareness of Jesus’ Davidic role, making it likely that his language of Christ is, at least in part, related to his Davidic identity.[3]

Yet, in this light, the language of "Christ" has important implications here. In the Old Testament, the Davidic King is understood as a kind of corporate representative of Israel. Those in his kingdom are somehow understood to be "incorporated" into the king--something that is rejected by those who break away from him (2 Sam 20:1[4]; 1 Kgs 12:16[5]). 

Indeed, one might point out that in a certain way the Davidic King embodies the vocation of Israel in his own calling. What is said about Israel, is said about the Davidic king:

Davidic King
God’s firstborn son (Exod 4:22[6])
God’s firstborn son (Ps 89:27[7]; 2 Sam 7:14)[8]
Royal priesthood (Exod 19:6[9])
Royal priesthood (Ps 110:1-4[10])
“High above the nations” (Deut 28:1)
“Highest of the kings of the earth” (89:27)

All of this might be helpful for understanding Paul's language of being "in Christ". Specifically, Paul understands that being "in Christ" carries the implication of incorporation into the People of the Messiah--which, of course, happens through being united to Christ:

Consider the following passages:
  • “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in [Gk. ἐν] Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in [Gk. ἐν] the blood of Christ.” (Eph 2:11–13)
  • “For we are the true circumcision, who worship God in spirit, and glory in [Gk. ἐν] Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3) 
Wright further suggests that Paul's language of being "into Christ" reflects the idea of the people of the Messiah growing together in their participation in the mandate to become Christ:
  • “And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, into [Gk. εἰς] the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:11–12)
  • “I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and all the saints, 6 and I pray that the sharing of your faith may promote the knowledge of all the good that is ours into [Gk. εἰς] Christ.” (Philm 6; RSV; Wright: “every good thing which is being worked in us unto Christ”)
Above we mentioned that the Servant is understood as Israel and yet also, somehow, as the figure who saves Israel. I think Paul's language of "Christ" might help us better understand this. For Paul, Jesus is the Christ, but the Christ incorporates us into his mission. 

3. The Universality of the Church

Finally, picking up one one of the themes of the first reading, all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus comes, in a sense, to fulfill the mission of the Servant: he reveals the salvation of God to Israel, wherever they may be and he also comes to bring a light to the Gentiles, who are now incorporated into the the "commonwealth of Israel" (see Eph 2:11-13 above). 

John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
He is the one of whom I said,
‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me
because he existed before me.’
I did not know him,
but the reason why I came baptizing with water
was that he might be made known to Israel.”
John testified further, saying,
“I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven
and remain upon him.
I did not know him,
but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me,
‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain,
he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’
Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”
As usual, there is a lot here to comment on.

1. The Lamb of God

John's baptism in the Synoptics is said to be for "repentance" of sin. While that exact language is not used here, John the Baptist is clearly also clearly portrayed as longing for the day the "sin of the world" is taken away.

By identifying him as "Lamb of God", John seems to identify Christ as the one who will do this. Moreover, given the fact that the lamb is frequently tied to sacrifice--particularly in the passover--it seems to suggest that Christ will deliver his people from their sins through a sacrificial act. All of this imagery, as is well known, comes together later in the Passion Narrative of the Fourth Gospel, where Christ is depicted as a kind of New Passover sacrifice.

Of course, one key aspect of the Passover sacrifice was that it must be eaten. In John 6 Jesus thus describes how believers must eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to be saved.

To tie this in with the commentary above we might also say that Christ is the true son of Abraham, sacrificed so that all the nations may be blessed.

2. Did John Know Jesus or Not? 

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is identified as the cousin of Jesus. So how does John say that he does not know him?

Thomas Aquinas offers this explanation:
. . . for John had lived in the desert from boyhood. And although many miracles happened during the birth of Christ, such as the Magi and the star and so on, they were not known to John: both because he was an infant at the time, and because, after withdrawing to the desert, he had no association with Christ. In the interim between his birth and baptism, Christ did not perform any miracles, but led a life similar to any other person, and his power remained unknown to all. (Super Evangelium S. Ionnis Lectura, 1:263).

3. Jesus' Baptism

While John does not specifically say that Jesus came towards John for baptism, readers of the Gospels will clearly this narrative to that event. The depiction of the descent of the Spirit and the imagery of the dove--which both are associated with Jesus' baptism in Matthew, Mark, and Luke--make it difficult to believe that is not what is in view here.

The scene also reflects another passage about the Servant in Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted" (Isa 61:1).

4. The Dove

The coming of the Spirit in terms of a dove has been explained in multiple ways. However, it seems to me to be most likely linked with the new creation imagery of the Gospel. From the first verse of the Gospel, John is evoking Genesis: "In the beginning. . ."

Of course, the dove is also associated with the story of Noah and the Flood. To that end, it is worth noting that the story of the flood is portrayed in terms of a kind of "new creation":
  • Out of the waters, a new creation emerges (Gen 1:2; 7:11) 
  • The recurrence of the number “seven”: 
    • The flood begins after “seven” days, evoking the seven days of creation (Gen 2:2; 7:10) 
    • The Lord rested on the 7th day / ark comes to rest in the 7th month (Gen 2:2-3; 8:4). 
  • Noah is like Adam 
    • Told “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 2:28; 9:1) 
    • Given “dominion” over the creatures of the earth (Gen 2:28; 9:2) 
  • There is a sin in the Noah narrative that is reminiscent of Adam’s: 
    • Both are linked to a garden / vineyard 
    • The protagonist onsumes too much fruit / fruit of the vine 
    • Both are found naked
In light of this, it would make sense for an image of the flood to appear in the story; Jesus is bringing about a new creation.

Baptism thus brings about a new creation.

4. "Son of God"

Jesus' baptism also reveals his identity as "Son of God". Of course, in the Old Testament this was a title given to Israel (cf. Exod. 4:22) and the Davidic King (cf. Ps. 2:7).

Jesus is the Son of God and it is through him that we become "sons of God"--particularly, through baptism.

Moreover, we might note how this dovetails (pun intended!) with the commentary above on the Servant who is both a figure who comes to save Israel and who also is somehow Israel.

In our baptism we come to the Son of God, the one upon whom the Spirit rests, and we are taken up into his mission. Let us prepare for that mission (Latin: missa--, i.e., where we get the term "mass") as we enter into this Sunday's liturgy.

[1] “. . . when Paul says ‘in’ with a phrase denoting Jesus Christ the Lord, the word which regularly follows is either ‘Christ’ or ‘Lord’, and virtually never ‘Jesus’. When, however, he says ‘through’, it is usually ‘Jesus’ or ‘Lord’, rather than ‘Christ’. . . Most revealingly, he uses εἰς, ‘into’, always with ‘Christ’ and never with either ‘Jesus’ or ‘Lord’.” Wright, Climax of the Covenant, 45.
[2] See Hahn, “Kingdom and Church in Luke-Acts,” 300 n. 32 who catalogues passages in the Old Testament linking David with “anointing” terminology (1 Sam 16:13; 2 Sam 19:21, 22:51; 23:1; 1 Kgs 1:38–39; 2 Kgs 11:12; 23:30; 2 Chr 6:42; 23:11; Ps 2:2; 18:50; 20:6; 28:8; 84:9; 89:20, 38, 51; 132:10, 17) and 302 n. 47 where texts associating the term with the eschatological Davidide are provided (Ezra 7:28; 12:32; Pss. Sol. 17:32; 2 Bar. 70:10; 72:2; 4Q252 V, 3).
[3] Romans 1:3 reads: “the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh”. Romans 15:23 describes the Messiah as the “root of Jesse”.
[4] “We have no portion in David, and we have no inheritance in the son of Jesse; every man to his tents, O Israel!” (2 Sam 20:1)
[5] “What portion have we in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Look now to your own house, David.” (1 Kgs 12:16)
[6] “And you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my first-born son” (Exod 4:22).
[7] “And I will make him the first-born. . .” (Ps 89:27).
[8] “I will be his father, and he shall be my son” (2 Sam 7:14).
[9] “. . . you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod 19:6).
[10] “The Lord says to my lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool.’ 2 The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your foes! . . . 4 The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.’” (Ps 110:1–2, 4)


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the fabulous insight! I was hoping you would address John "not knowing Jesus". I never knew St Thomas commented on that. Great clarification!

Dwight said...

Thank you, Dr. Barber! One clarification, though: under point 2 you state "Jesus is identified as the cousin of Jesus." I think you meant John is identified as the cousin of Jesus. :)

Dwight said...

Oops! Perhaps I should clarify...
That's point 2 under the Gospel reading.

Anonymous said...

I found some additional errata besides Dwight's comment above. In section 3. we read, "While John does not specifically say that Jesus came towards John for baptism, readers of the Gospels will clearly this narrative to that event."
Instead of 'clearly' did you mean 'clarify'?
In section 4. we read, "The protagonist onsumes too much fruit / fruit of the vine "
You meant 'consumes'.

Danny said...

Michael, I'd like to suggest an even fuller interpretation of Jesus' baptism: In a "baptism of repentance" the emphasis is obviously on turning from sin, i.e., independence of God, and turning back to the Father. But Jesus is explicit when He tells John to permit His baptism in order to "fulfill all righteousness." Obviously Jesus was without sin, therefore in His baptism Christ was not dying to sin or a "sinful nature", the "old self" as Paul would later say. In other words, instead of offering the Father a sinful "old nature" in exchange for a resurrected "new nature" as we do through the sacrament of baptism, Jesus was offering His *righteousness* to the Father; for the Father to do with as the Father pleased. Hence why "Jesus only did and said what He saw His Father saying and doing." In other words, when Jesus offers His righteousness to the Father, the Father responds with the affirmation of an intimately shared relationship: "This is my Son in whom I am well pleased." Why is Jesus fulfilling "all righteousness" through His baptism? Because Christ is giving something so much better to the Father; He is offering His righteousness to the Father; and not merely sin as we do in our baptism, exchanging death for life. In Jesus' baptism He exchanges His life for "Life abundantly", Life *with* the Father in every aspect--total intimacy. By so doing Jesus leads the way for His ecclesia to enter into intimate union with the Father, which is done in our maturing effort to offer our righteousness *in Christ* to the Father, to do with as He sees fit through the power of the Holy Spirit, thus "fulfilling all righteousness." By so doing Jesus, also, accomplishes what Adam and Eve did not in their original state of righteousness, when they failed to fully give God their righteousness given to them at creation. The reality of Christ "fulfilling all righteousness" through His baptism is further confirmed in God's OT categories of "unclean", "clean'" and "holy." Jesus was not "unclean" as we are from original sin; instead, Jesus is clean by virtue of earning a righteousness that eludes all humankind but Christ alone. However, said "cleanliness" is not necessarily "holiness" according to the Levitical Law. It is only when something has been cleaned, or is already clean, and *then* consecrated to God for His purposes that an object, or person, becomes "holy unto the Lord." Therefore, in the baptism of Christ, Jesus shows us the way to the fulness of righteousness---and the way is by offering God our own righteousness *in Christ*, i.e., our "new nature" for God's purposes---until all has been accomplished by God through us by the power of the Holy Spirit on earth.

Nick said...

"Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" is an old Jewish address for the paschal lamb.