A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

Water has been and continues to be very important in our lives. Many scientists say that a major percentage of our body is water based.  We need water to keep things flowing in our body.  Water is needed to make things grow, such as plants, trees and flowers.  Droughts are considered to be very dangerous experiences.

We should also remember some theological examples in the Bible.  For instance, we have the narration in Genesis of Noah and the flood.  (Genesis 6-9)  Many people drowned because of their sinfulness against others, while Noah and family were saved.  We are also aware that in the book of Exodus (Exodus 14:1-31), while Israel was escaping Egyptian slavery, the people crossed dry-shod across the Red Sea.  That was considered a miracle, and  eventually became a staple in early Israelite theology.

In addition, there is a theologically significant  citation from John’s gospel.    “…The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”  (John 4:14)  In effect, Jesus referred to himself as being “living water” which gives eternal life.

The above indicates that “water” can be very good for us. The citation from John indicates that Jesus is the source of “living water” which can lead to eternal life.  For us Christians this means the living waters are the waters of our Baptism, the waters that lead to eternal life. When we are baptized, we receive not only the Holy Spirit but also the responsibility of carrying on Jesus’ ministry of justice, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding.

Two of the readings for the feast of the Baptism of the Lord (Isaiah 42:1-7 and Mark 1:7-11) refer to the importance of  the Holy Spirit and service.  In the gospel, John makes a distinction between himself and Jesus.  John will baptize with water but Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit.  That is to say that the coming of the Holy Spirit is crucial to Jesus’ baptism, because that same Holy Spirit provides the motivational energy for us to carry on Jesus’ ministry on earth.

What is interesting to note is that the Hebrew word for “spirit” is RUAH, which means that it most likely means “the creative power of God.”  We observe that in Genesis 1:2 we read “…while a wind [RUAH] from God swept over the face of the waters…” creation took place.  “Spirit” generally means “God’s creative power” which is what this reading seems to indicate.

This is what we receive at our Baptism, namely, God’s creative power motivating us to carry on Jesus’ ministry on earth.  In the feast day’s Gospel when Jesus is baptized by John, two things happen.  First, the Holy Spirit comes down in the form of a dove [most likely reflecting Genesis 1:2, “God’s creative power hovering over the face of the waters”–like a dove]

The second thing that happens is that we note in the Gospel some  parallels to the reading from Isaiah 42:1-7.  The Lord speaks about his servant (Jesus was often called “servant”), his chosen one in whom he is well pleased, and in whom he has put his spirit [Hebrew has RUAH] who will bring about justice to the nations. In addition, the Gospel reading  tells us that the voice from heaven says to Jesus, “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased…in whom I have sent my Spirit.”

What have we learned?  First of all, that while John’s baptism was with water,  Jesus’ baptism was with water AND the Holy Spirit.  The word “spirit,” as the spirit of God, is more comprehensively translated “the creative power of God.”  So, when we are baptized and receive the Holy Spirit we are receiving the creative power of God to go forth and continue his ministry of justice and compassion.  Jesus proclaimed his mission (Luke 4:16-21, based on Isaiah 61:1ff) which should be ours as well.

The second thing we can learn is that we must learn to appreciate our own Baptism.  Whenever we bless ourselves with the sign of the cross using holy water, not only are we reminding ourselves of the waters of our Baptism, but also of what the sign of the cross means.

By our actions we express what we believe.  If we believe in our Baptism and in the creative power of the Holy Spirit, then our actions will prove that we shall continue the ministry of Jesus regarding justice and compassion.




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