Baptism of the Lord
Sunday 9th January 2022
The Gospel Paraphrased
There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.
This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased
Lk 3:15-16, 21-22
Expectations had grown among the people and they began to wonder about John, as to whether he was the Christ, so he addressed them all, saying ‘I indeed baptise you with water but someone mightier than me is coming. I am not fit to untie the laces of his shoes. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.’
Now when all the people were baptised and Jesus, himself, having been baptised, was praying, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily shape looking like a dove. A voice came from heaven saying, ‘This is my Beloved. I am delighted with you.’
The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.
This Sunday's Psalm
Ps 103: 1-2, 3-4, 24-25, 27-30
O bless the Lord, my soul!
Lord my God, you are so great,
clothed in splendour and honour,
wrapt in light,
with the heavens spread like a curtain.
In the heights God builds his dwelling,
making the clouds his chariot,
walking on the wings of the wind.
He makes the winds his messengers.
Flashing fires are his servants.
O God, how diverse are your works,
In wisdom you have made them all.
The earth is radiant with your works.
The sea is so wide, filled with teeming life,
animals great and small.
All of these look to you
to feed them at the right time.
You offer food, they gather round
to eat from your hand and be satisfied.
You hide your face, they are distressed.
You take away their breath, they die,
returning to dust.
You send forth your spirit, they are created
and the face of the earth is renewed.
Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.
This Sunday's Prayer
Loving God, as you called Jesus your ‘Beloved’, you also desire to call each of us ‘Beloved’. Let us offer to others the love you give to us and show your delight to all. We ask this in Jesus’ name confident that you will hear us.
The Commentaries Summarised
As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.
This Sunday's Commentary
The baptism of Jesus by John is described in all four Gospels yet it was problematic for the early church. Why should the one proclaimed as Messiah, the greater one, be baptised by this prophet, the lesser one? Why should the sinless one need a baptism of repentance with sinners? If one regarded power and salvation according to common understanding these would be issues but Jesus’ form of authority and his way of salvation is so radically new, that even in his description of the baptism, Luke points us in this new direction. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is described as emerging from the midst of the people – one of them – to receive baptism. Immediately after the story of the baptism, Luke gives his version of Jesus’ genealogy. Unlike Matthew’s which stops at Abraham, this version goes back to Adam, who is son of God. Thus, in two different ways, Luke stresses Jesus’ identification with common humanity. Between these occurs the proclamation of Jesus’ unique filial relationship with God: “You are my beloved Son.” This happens not when Jesus is being baptised by John. (In fact, John isn’t even said to be explicitly baptising Jesus.) Rather, it occurs when Jesus is at prayer – that special practice that makes a person receptive to the power of God. The voice from heaven reminds the reader of God’s manifestation to the people in the desert. The dove recalls the Spirit brooding like a dove over creation in Gen 1:2 and the sign of hope after the flood, Gen 8. The words spoken over Jesus remind the reader of Ps 2 – a messianic Psalm and Is 42:1 – the beginning of the First Servant Song.
Thus, in his positioning of this event and the language he uses, Luke identifies Jesus both as a son with sinful humanity and as the beloved Son of God. He proclaims Jesus as the Messiah, the one desired by John and the people, but also as one who is going to offer salvation in a way that is differs from their expectations.
Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.
This Sunday's Exposition
Our expectations can have a profound effect on what we allow to happen in our lives. If we have no expectations, believing that nothing can change, nothing will. If we expect the worst, we will do nothing to stop it happening. If our hopes are overly grand and unrealistic, we are building our lives on sand. The trick then is to have expectations that offer true hope yet which are anchored in reality.
Jesus emerged amongst a people who had great expectations. Having experienced centuries of oppression, with the appearance of John the Baptist, they sensed change was coming. Naturally they looked to this dramatic fiery prophet and wondered, “Was this the Anointed One? Was this the new Moses who led them anew out of slavery?” They expected and wanted a great dramatic leader – as did John himself – someone fiery who would denounce evil and stand up to their enemies. But they got Jesus – Jesus who in being baptised in the midst of the people began his ministry by identifying with them in their sin and failure. Jesus, who largely preached out in the countryside to ordinary people telling them that the Kingdom of God was in their midst. Jesus, who forgave sins and assured people that they were dearly loved by God. This is not what they expected.
Rather than being a leader up there, out front, Jesus led in their midst, as he does in ours. This calls for a radical review of our expectations. The transformation he offers is not outside us. Rather he stands with us and wants us to hear the words that were spoken to him by the Father, “This is my Beloved.” In hearing those words and believing them in our hearts, our expectations will be changed. We will begin to wonder what could such a loving God expect of me…and then we will truly have accepted Jesus as the leader he desires to be.
Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.
This Sunday's Reflection
Life’s great happiness is to be convinced we are loved. Victor Hugo
Les Misèrables tells the story of people with hopes and ideals living in a squalid world marred by sin. We follow them in their differing response to the challenges of life. We see Inspector Javert who believes that adherence to the law reveals goodness, fosters peace in society and will be rewarded both in this world and the next – but his narrow understanding fails to recognise the compromises people must make just to survive in a complex world. We see the revolutionaries who place their hopes in a changed political system bringing justice to the poor and destitute but who fail to realise that hunger and destitution can undermine the courage and tenacity needed for political change. In contrast to these, we see Jean Valjean. His heart and life had been transformed by the generosity and love of Bishop Myriel and, in consequence, he is able to sustain the love and care of his brothers and sisters beyond what seems humanly possible – and indeed is humanly impossible. Having been loved so extraordinarily as a child of God, he was able to love all as children of God. That, for us, is the essence of our baptismal call. We are washed into the life and love of God. In the story of Jesus’ baptism, we are given a sign of what baptism means to us. As Jesus stood with us, so we are to stand with him and hear the words: “You are my beloved.” In hearing and owning this reality, we are given the power to love in ways beyond what may seem humanly possible. Our lives may not be as dramatic as Jesus’ or Jean Valjean’s, for that matter, but we still have the call to offer love in the small and great events of life.
Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.
This Sunday's Visual Meditation
- Early Mosaic of the Baptism from Ravenna (click red text).
- Illumination from Hortus Deliciarum (click red text)
- Baptism of the Lord by Mesrop of Khizan, an Armenian. 15C (click red text)
- A painting by Carracci (click red text).
- A painting by Francesca Battesimo (click red text).
The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.
This Sunday's Mulling Meditation
As you go through this week, mull on what weaknesses you would like Jesus to come and support you in. As he came out of the midst of the people to baptism, how could he come out of the midst of your life?
In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.
This Sunday's Mirror Meditation
Rest in the love of your God.
As the heavens opened in Jesus’ baptism, God wants the heavens to open in our lives, to have our lives radiate grace and love but we can only do this by allowing God’s love and life to first wash over us.
Sit and listen to God call you ‘Beloved’ with Jesus. Take the words to heart and let them resonate in you. As you accept being the “Beloved” consider the various challenges you have in your life and ponder on how you, as “Beloved” of God, could respond in such situations.
Rest in the love of your God.
Suggestions for the Programme
The elements of the programme can be used in any way that helps your prayer. The suggestions below are fairly simple ways of using this programme.
Become conscious of your God
Hymn or poem
Reading of Gospel text
Mulling over a reflection
Become conscious of your God
Reading of Gospel text and reflection
The programme can also be used for Staff Prayer. How you may put together such a prayer would be influenced largely by the size and dynamics of your staff. For example, a smaller staff group might be able to use discussion of a movie as a way of exploring the meaning of a Gospel.
A painting illustrating the Gospel could be displayed on an interactive board
Reading of the Gospel
Invitation for share reflections
Reading of part of the Gospel
One or two of the mulling themes
Time for reflection
- Baptised in Water by Michael Saward
- O healing river, send down your waters by Fran Minkoff
- On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry by Charles Coffin; translated John Chandler