by Father Mike Stubbs
The first time that I saw the ocean was when I was about 9 years old. After all, we lived in Kansas, a long way from the coast.
We had traveled over to California to visit relatives. I still remember standing on the beach outside Los Angeles, looking at what seemed to me to be the edge of the world.
The ancient Israelites also did not travel much, especially not by sea. Consequently, they considered the coastlands on the Mediterranean to be the edge of the earth.
That is the meaning that lies behind their mention in Sunday’s first reading — Is 42:1-4, 6-7 — for the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The reading looks forward to God’s servant, who will accomplish wonderful things.
That is why it tells us: “The coastlands will wait for his teaching.” These words express the confidence that God will extend salvation beyond the confines of the people of Israel, even unto the ends of the earth. The coastlands represent those ends.
This idea of universal salvation appears in two other spots in the reading: “He shall bring forth justice to the nations.” (The word translated here as “nations” can also be translated as “gentiles.”)
The other place occurs later in the reading, where God is addressing the servant: “I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations.”
This mission assigned to God’s servant represents a radical departure from earlier approaches. God is understood no longer exclusively as the protector of the people of Israel but, rather, as the God of all peoples, of the entire earth.
That is why we view this prophecy as applying to Jesus Christ. We believe that he was born to save all humanity.
That is why his teachings have spread throughout the whole world. That is why the church has taken root in every country.
Through Jesus Christ, God desires to bring forth justice to the nations, so that they will live according to God’s will.
God wishes to open the eyes of the blind to see the truth of God’s word. God wishes to bring out prisoners from confinement, that is to say, to release us from the bondage of sin.
God wishes to accomplish all these things through Jesus Christ, God’s servant.
At the moment of Jesus’ baptism, he is revealed as God’s Son, as God’s servant. Through him, the promises and hopes of old will be fulfilled.