Thus says the Lord:
"Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness."
Then Peter began to speak to them: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him."
Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented.
And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom am well pleased."
I've had the privilege of leading a pilgrimage to the Holy Land on several occasions. One of the highlights was an immersion in the river Jordan, when I and each of my fellow pilgrims renewed the promises of our baptism. It was a moving moment, and one could envision the Spirit descending, and the Father confirming each of us as his son or daughter. Many of those who experienced it remember that moment with great emotion, and with a sense of renewed commitment.
The baptism of Jesus is a moment of special grace in our story of salvation. Not only did he join us in our sinful state, but the Father and the Spirit are seen and heard to be there with him. The gospel uses the simple phrase that "the heavens were opened," but it is a powerful statement. Later on, when Jesus completed his life-journey on Calvary, we read how "the veil of the Temple was rent in two." Now at last we were free to enter the Holy of Holies. Today's gospel is the beginning of a journey, which, through our own baptism, each of us is asked to travel. It is a journey full of purpose.
Each of us needs a sense of purpose and pattern to our Christian living. When I set out on a journey I need to have a definite idea of where I intend going, and how to make the journey. Peter summarised the purpose and pattern of Christ's life when he said, "went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him." We are invited to make his purpose our own.
A man was down the country travelling along by-roads where the signposts were few and far between. After a while, unsure of his directions, he decided to ask the first person he saw. When he came across a farmer driving his cows home for milking he stopped the car and asked if he was on the right road to Mallow. The farmer told him that he certainly was on the Mallow road. The driver thanked him and was about to move forward when the farmer added, in a nonchalant way, "You're on the right road, but you're going in the wrong direction!'