by Father Mike Stubbs
In the days before radio, TV and newspapers, government officials would make announcements by means of a town crier.
He would walk through the streets, often while ringing a bell to get people’s attention, and shout out the announcements.
In contrast, the servant of the Lord in Sunday’s first reading — Is 42:1-4, 6-7 — is described as “not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street.”
Gentleness marks this servant of the Lord: “A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench.”
Despite this gentleness, he shows great strength in carrying out the massive task given to him. He is entrusted to do God’s work, “until he establishes justice on the earth.”
The servant of the Lord’s mission stands out in its universal quality. It is not limited to Israel, but extends to the nations: the non-Israelites. Speaking about the servant, God says that “he shall bring forth justice to the nations.” And addressing the servant, God tells him that he has been set as “a light for the nations.” The servant is commissioned “to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.”
Furthermore, the servant is told that God has formed him to be “a covenant of the people.” Centuries before, God had established a covenant with the people of Israel through Abraham and through Moses. Now, God will establish a covenant through this servant which will include the non-Israelite peoples as well.
This covenant would establish a close relationship between God and all the peoples of the earth. It would include requirements for them to follow. But it would also promise them many blessings. It would bind them together in love.
This passage from the Book of Isaiah, which we hear as the first reading for the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, helps us to understand the mission that God was entrusting to Jesus Christ. We identify him as the servant of the Lord described in the reading.
At the moment of Jesus’ baptism, this is made clear. God has entrusted Jesus with the mission to establish a new covenant, to bring justice to the world, to serve as a light for the nations. Jesus’ baptism is a turning point in his life . . . and a turning point for the history of the entire human race.