Epiphany derives from a Greek word for “making manifest or shining forth”. We celebrated the Solemnity of the Epiphany last Sunday with the commemoration of the Three Kings. Here, Jesus is revealed, “made manifest’, to the world. Yet, there are other events in which He also shines forth. The Church has recognized this by celebrating two other “Epiphanies”. In the “Baptism of the Lord” which we celebrate this weekend, the voice of the Father comes from heaven and says: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased”. Here, Jesus is acknowledged as a member of the Trinity. The third is the first miracle at the wedding feast at Cana. Here, the power of Jesus to heal is proclaimed, but also the realization that the clearest manifestation of his reality will not be seen until his death and resurrection. We will read this next week. In the present selection of readings, this order is maintained only in Year C and so we will not celebrate the three Epiphanies again for another three years. I ask you to think about these manifestations, and ask yourselves when Jesus has shined in your own lives. To recognize this in Church, a few Christmas trees will be left in the Sanctuary, and the recessional hymn at Mass next week will be “Joy to the World”.
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
Jan 13, 2019
The return of the Jewish leaders to Jerusalem was obviously an important event for the Jews. Isaiah, who has a wider view of history, shows us in today’s reading that we must also see it from the perspective of “world” history, God cannot move without disruption. To understand this, we must begin with Chapter 41.
Isaiah is creating a trial scene in which God is the prosecuting attorney and judge. The first case is “who liberated the Jewish People?” As we proceed, note that the proper scriptural passages are placed on the side but only a small section is written out. Hebrew poetry is a bit repetitive to our ears.
Summons to trail 1 41:1
Keep silence before me, O coastlands;
you peoples, wait for my words!
Let them draw near and speak;
let us come together for judgment. Isaiah 41:1
“Coastlands” refer to the trading peoples of the Mediterranean world – they are not Jewish.
Legal questioning 1 – 41:2-4
2 Who has stirred up from the East the champion of justice,
and summoned him to be his attendant?
To him he delivers the nations
and subdues the kings;
With his sword he reduces them to dust,
with his bow, to driven straw. Isaiah 41:2
This is Cyrus, the king of Persia who conquered Babylon and will offer the Jewish leaders an opportunity to return. Yet, it is the God of the Jews who is in control.
4 Who has performed these deeds?
He who has called forth the generations since the beginning.
I, the LORD, am the first,
and with the last I will also be. Isaiah 41:4 (NAB)
Election and reassurance of Israel 41:5-20
8 But you, Israel, my servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
offspring of Abraham my friend—
9 You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth
and summoned from its far-off places,
You whom I have called my servant,
whom I have chosen and will not cast off— Isaiah 41:8–9 (NAB)
Cyrus has been obedient to God’s will and has been rewarded with victory, but the Persians are not the chosen people. It is the people of Abraham who God has recalled from the ends of the earth and have his special favor. Note also that he refers to them as servants. They are chosen and important, but because they have a role.
Many beautiful lines follow but they reinforce the idea that the God of Israel is the Lord of History but as we have seen many times before He demands justice from his people.
Summons to trail 2 41:21
Having established that Israel’s God has worked his will, we begin the second trial, “Are there other Gods?”
21 Present your case, says the LORD;
bring forward your reasons, says the King of Jacob Isaiah 41:2
Legal Questioning 2 41:22-29
Now the “other” gods are on trial, or more specifically their idols:
23 Foretell the things that shall come afterward,
that we may know that you are gods!
Do something, good or evil,
that will put us in awe and in fear. Isaiah 41:23
They cannot, therefore:
24 Why, you are nothing and your work is nought!
To choose you is an abomination. Isaiah 41:24 (NAB)
He uses Cyrus as an example. He called him and the “other gods” did not even know it:
26 Who announced this from the beginning, that we might know;
beforehand, that we might say it is true?
Not one of you foretold it, not one spoke;
no one heard you say, Isaiah 41:26 (NAB)
From this He concludes that they do not exist. This is the earliest clear statement that there are no other gods
29 Ah, all of them are nothing,
their works are nought,
their idols are empty wind! Isaiah 41:29 (NAB)
Election and reassurance of Israel 2 42:1-9
We now come to the section for Sunday’s reading.
We have seen in 41:8 that God has called His servant. He returns to this when explains to the people what accepting Him as the only deity really means.
1 Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
Upon whom I have put my spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations. Isaiah 42:1 (NAB)
He is speaking to the Jews who returned to Jerusalem not to a king, or indeed a prophet. As we saw last week the Kings and the traditional leaders failed. They failed to be just to their own people and thus could not fulfill their calling to bring justice to the nations. If the God of the Jews is truly the only God, then he is truly the ultimate course of Justice and peace.
3 A bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
4 Until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching. Isaiah 42:3–4 (NAB)
It shall not be by their own power; certainly not by traditional military might. A plant shall not be crushed by their own efforts, but the power of God will transform the pagans of the Coastlands who, in the quiet of their hearts, await the message that will set them free as well.
6 I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations, Isaiah 42:6 (NAB)
By His covenant, sharing of life with His people, He will make them into a light for the nations: the way His name will be known.
Through them he will do for the world what he did for Israel
7 To open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness. Isaiah 42:7 (NAB
Through our covenant with Jesus, we have joined the Jews in the responsibility of being the light to the nations. As Pope Francis reminded the U.S. bishops on their retreat which concluded last Tuesday, this will be done with a firm commitment to justice. In its clearest form, this means our care for those who are poor and whose needs are not even seen. As of this writing, the “Partial” government shutdown is still in effect. There are contract workers who will never be paid and who are in desperate straits as it is. I wonder how many congresspeople and bureaucrats, as well as the President and Cabinet members, know the names of the people who clean their offices? Do they know if they have children and can they pay their bills? Or are they as interchangeable as the desks and chairs? The people of Abraham will be visible and will be a light to the nations, but only if we care for those who invisible.