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Commentary to the BAPTISM OF THE LORD - YEAR B

Fernando Armellini - Sat, Jan 9th 2021

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A good Sunday for everyone. 

This Sunday's Gospel text presents Jesus who, having left Nazareth, goes to the Jordan  River to be baptized by John. It is the beginning of his public life; later he will settle down in  Capernaum, he will call the first disciples and will start the journey that will lead him to his  final destination: the gift of life. This year the Evangelist Mark will tell us about this path, tell  us step by step, and introduce Jesus who with his disciples walks the streets of Galilee, walks  along the shores of the lake, enters cities, enters villages, in synagogues, in private homes  with the aim of making himself known.  

This is why he came into the world, to show the true face of God, which is the face of the  successful man. And every Sunday we will hear an episode of this journey and it will be like  contemplating, together with the apostles, that face in which the beauty of God's love shines. 

But today we will not comment on the Gospel passage—since that commentary has  already been made in another video. We will try to capture the spiritual nourishment of the  first reading which presents us with a well-known passage and also a very beautiful one. He  brings us the words of a prophet who lived in Babylon with his people in exile. Let us  remember that in the year 586 Jerusalem was destroyed by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar  who deported the most abled men, the elite of Israel, and took them to Babylon, but he did  not take the old and the sick but only those capable people who could be of help in Babylon. 

In the beginning the life of these deportees in a foreign land was very hard: tiredness,  pain, nostalgia for their distant land and also, the memory of Zion, but they continued to keep  their faith; they cultivated the hope that one day they would be able to return to the land of  their parents. Then decades have passed, those who had come from Jerusalem are already dead; children have been born and their children’s children. And among these the memory of  the land of Israel has been fading more and more. 

It is in this context that arrives among the exiles the prophet who spoke the words of the  reading we will comment today. It is a time when the faith that had been instilled by the  parents entered into a deep crisis among the exiles. They stopped praying the psalms, reading  the sacred texts and the young people have begun to cultivate other more immediate  interests. And it was for these new generations that the stories of the patriarchs, of the  promises made to Abraham, the deliverance from Egypt, the covenant with the Lord, the  expectation of a messiah from David's dynasty were all just stories that no longer fascinated  them; were considered legends that made their elders dream, but young people now  preferred to think about building a pleasant life in that Mesopotamian land they now  considered their homeland.  

They were making a choice on which their entire history would depend. They don't realize  that they are giving up their identity forever as the Lord's chosen people. Material interests  soon make them forget the great ideals, the values worth living for.  

And it is in this context of crisis of faith that arises among the exiles of Babylon this  prophet whose name we do not know; biblical scholars call him the Second Isaiah, he is a very  intelligent, prepared man and even a poet; he is a person who knows how to read the social,  political and religious situation with the eyes of God. He lives with passion this moment of  crisis of the new generations of his people and addresses them with great precision because  he wants to shake their consciences and announce the project that God has for them, to  return to the land of their fathers to give continuity to the history of this people. 

Let us listen carefully to the words of this prophet because the spiritual condition in which  the exiles find themselves is not very different from the spiritual condition of many Christian  communities of our time. In moments of crisis, the temptation to abandon the faith, to adapt  to the pagan life that everyone livesis very strong; it is a life that also offers many satisfactions  and many pleasures. The way the prophet presents himself to his people is quite curious; he  enters the scene as a peddler who exhibits his merchandise and declaims excellence and  invites to buy it.  

Let's listen to what it offers and at what price: 

“All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, buy grain  and eat; Come, buy grain without money, wine and milk without cost! Why spend your money  for what is not bread; your wages for what does not satisfy. Only listen to me, and you shall  eat well, you shall delight in rich fare. Pay attention and come to me; listen, that you may  have life. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, the steadfast loyalty promised to  David.” 

The exiles of Babylon have no shortage of food, bread, water. From the material point of  view they are not having a bad time. Many have also reached prestigious positions in  Babylonian society, but this retreat about material life has made them forget the highest  values. They have lost or are losing consciousness of their identity as the Lord's chosen  people.  

The prophet wants them to realize that a child of Abraham, heir to the promises, cannot  be content with a comfortable, feel-good life...NO. He must think of feeding himself with  other bread, of quenching his thirst with other water; and his listeners understand very well these images because the bible speaks of God's wisdom, of the word that comes from heaven  and compares it to bread. 

The book of Deuteronomy says: "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word  that comes from the mouth of God." If one has only material bread it will be fine biologically,  but if you do not have the word of God that gives meaning to your existence, what are you  doing in this world? And also in the book of Proverbs, wisdom introduces herself and says:  "Come to me, eat of my bread, drink of the wine I have prepared." That is, if you assimilate  this wisdom, your life will be full of joy because your existence will have meaning. And also  water; the prophet Jeremiah presents us with the Lord who says: "My people have made two  errors: have abandoned me, the source of living water, and they dug broken cisterns that  don't hold water.” 

How much do the bread and water that God offers cost? At what price does he sell His  Word and His wisdom? He offers everything for free, without paying and then the prophet  says, 'it would be foolish not to take advantage of this gift because he who accepts it, receives  the source of all good, will have a happy life.' Here is the bread and water that even our new  generations run the risk of forgetting and neglecting. They think only about bread, food and 

water in the material goods of this world. 

In the New Testament we have a story that helps us understand this message; it is the  encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman. This woman from Samaria, is precisely the  image of humanity that feels an unrestrained need for joy and life, but have the delusion that  they can quench this thirst by drawing water from wells, which not only fails to satisfy this  need for love and life, but one day all these wells dry up. 

The search for pleasures at some point dries up; with the passing of the years the youthful  adventures, the things you were looking for: parties, trips, vacations, even professional  successes dry up too. Although you were a person acclaimed by all, when you retire nobody  looks for you anymore. These are all wells that one day will dry up. We know, but we still  believe that we can reach the fullness of joy in these wells.  

This is what the prophet offers: The bread and a water that really satisfies is wisdom, the  Word of God and until you feed on this bread and drink this water, you will never have a  meaningful life. Let us now listen to the prophet's sincere invitation to review these ideals of  life that revolve only in material realities. The invitation is to change your life and raise your  eyes.  

Let's listen: 

"Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near. Let the wicked  forsake their way, and sinners their thoughts; Let them turn to the Lord to find mercy; to our  God, who is generous in forgiving.” 

The prophet places the deportees before a choice on which the success or failure of their  lives depends. If they listen and leave the land they have now comfortably settled in, they will  give continuity to their history as a chosen people; if instead they prefer to stay in a foreign  land because they allow themselves to be seduced by the pagan ideals of life, then they will  have to renounce forever their identity as children of Abraham. 

The prophet proposes a very demanding choice because it is a journey of 3,000  kilometers; these are the kilometers that separate Babylon from Jerusalem; the deportees  wonder if it is worth undertaking this journey… Won't it be more comfortable to stay on pagan  land and live like the pagans? 

This is the temptation that our Christian communities also experience today. We have  the perception that little by little we are increasingly becoming a minority in the midst of a  society guided by principles and values that are not those of the gospel; and the temptation,  as for the exiles from Babylon, is to renounce one's identity as baptized, as disciples of Christ,  as people who accepted the invitation to be builders of a new world. They give up their own  history and integrate into the world, adapting to everyone's way of life. 

The prophet invites the exiles not to deny their history and promises the Lord's  forgiveness. One of the reasons for the discouragement and resignation of the exiles, besides  the seductions of the pagan life, is the image of God that they had cultivated and being taught  to them. They believed that the sin of infidelity that they committed had forever broken their  relationship with the Lord because they said: a wife who is repudiated for her infidelities, can  no longer be accepted in her husband's house; and therefore, even the Lord has now  disowned us so we continue in this new condition of ours and we will live like pagans. 

Those who imagine that God reasons according to the criteria of human justice are  resigned to their own condition as a sinner, but is this how the Lord thinks? Does He reason  as we do?  

Let us listen: 

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways—oracle of the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my  thoughts higher than your thoughts.” 

Let us pay attention because the image of God that the exiles have in mind is still  widespread today. It is the image of a God who gets angry for the offenses inflicted upon him  and who, if you do not repent, makes you pay for them. It is a very extended idea, but it is  blasphemy; and it is the reason for so many to abandon their faith. This is why the prophet  wants to cancel it and presents the words of God: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts,  nor are your ways my ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways  higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” 

Let us imprint this truth well in our minds and stop talking about God according to our  criteria of justice, of a God who thinks like us and who is a judge who makes you pay or instils fear in you, but it doesn't make you avoid sins, on the contrary, it makes you more sinful. Only  when we nurture the image of God that we contemplate in Jesus of Nazareth, that of the  Father who makes the sun rise on good men and bad men, not on good men and bad men! It  means that He makes the sun, which is his love, rise upon us when we are good and when we  are bad because His love is unconditional. Only those who internalize this image of the God  of love also become capable of loving those who are evil. 

And it is this image of God and this message of love that can change the world because it  contains a divine force that gives rise to a new humanity. In the same way that where water  arrives, even the desert becomes a garden, where one has this image of God's love and this  word of God's love, new heavens and a new earth arise. It is the promise that God makes  through the mouth of the prophet. 

Let us listen: 

"Yet just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till  they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful Giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall  not return to me empty, but shall do what pleases me, achieving the end for which I sent it.” 

Israel is a people marked by the experience of the desert; they remember that when  Moses made water spring from the rock, and the desert became an oasis. The oasis of Kedesh  Barnea where they spent so many years. No desert can resist the life force of water and snow. Why does the prophet introduce this image? Because the people of Israel who are in Babylon, are spiritually withered and decertified, they are completely losing their faith. The prophet  Ezekiel uses another image, he says that the Israelites are reduced to dry bones, scattered  over a great plain... there seems to be no more hope, but the Spirit of the Lord will enter  those bones and they will live again.  

The condition of this withered faith in the people in Babylon is not much different than  today and may also discourage us too when we contemplate the reality of the world we live  in: wars, injustices, violence, abandonment and all this can lead us to think that the old world  will always remain like this, that it is inevitable, that the wicked will always have the better  part. Unbelievers also say that Jesus was a very good person, but he was a dreamer; the new  world he wanted to start would never come true. Unbelievers would be right if Jesus and his  message were only a new philosophy, it would fade away like the other philosophies, the  other wisdoms of this world; but Jesus' was not a new philosophy, he brought to the world a  water of life, his Spirit, a divine force that is capable of transforming the desert of the old world into a truly new world; in him was presented that image with the features that we are  called to reproduce and humanity will be new when all humanity reproduce the features of  the Son of God. This is the reason for our hope, the irresistible power of his gospel. 

I wish you all a good Sunday and a good week.

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