On this feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we see the hoped-for vision of Isaiah is realised in the Word made flesh.
Once more Isaiah provides us with a vision of the overwhelming Divine desire to draw humanity into Himself that he has to choose someone to be Godlike (‘I have endowed him with my spirit.’) in his dedication to bringing true justice to all the nations. But then Isaiah so describes the qualities of this chosen one as to leave us in tears: ‘He does not cry out or shout aloud, does not break the crushed reed nor quench the wavering flame…. he does not waver, will not be crushed until true justice is established on earth.’ Isaiah’s vision is of the gentle healing justice of God and it is all-encompassing (‘the islands are awaiting his law’) and he sees that this servant is so close to God that God says: ‘I have taken you by the hand and formed you’ – and the words tumble out of Isaiah – to be covenant, light of nations, restorer of sight to the blind, liberator of captives, opener of the dark dungeons! It is no wonder that those who experienced Jesus saw in these words a foretaste and prophecy. This is one of the most moving descriptions of the nature of the Divine desire in the Old Testament and as such it was readily applied to the person of Jesus.
Then we get the down-to-earth admission of Peter of the impact of the truth of God’s universality as envisioned by Isaiah – never to one corner of it or one nation or one religion: ‘The truth I have now come to realise is that God does not have favourites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him.’ True, he says, God sent his word to the people of Israel, and it was to them that the good news of peace (echoes of Isaiah!) was brought by Jesus the Christ – but Jesus the Christ is Lord of all people! For the good Israelite fisherman Peter, this is cataclysmic in its universal reality.
Then we have the record of the sunburst and the climax as recorded by Matthew. ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on him.’ The millennia before Jesus and after him are now brought to a single point of a union declared and revealed. The Spirit of God descends on this man, just baptised by John in the Jordan. The hoped-for vision of Isaiah (Servant – Lord), Peter’s dawning realisation of the truth to be found in Jesus here has its origin and culmination. God and Man are so closely united that years after, the traditions voiced by Matthew trace it all back to this day at the river: ‘the heavens opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on him.’ The mission of living out the mystery of the nature of God now begins. This man is revealed as ‘My Son, the Beloved.’ The conversation between God and humanity has become a real Man – this is now made clear at the baptism of Jesus. The Word now speaks, so from now on, we can listen to the word of God in human accents.