The readings for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time convey a profound and exquisite hope and joy. God is coming through with His light, bringing imprisoned humanity out of the gloom of darkness and sin.
In the first reading, Israel is in captivity by the Assyrians in the northern most portion of the kingdom of Israel. The Israelites experience a lot of darkness under the Assyrians. “The darkness that came over the people would have included social disintegration, political collapse and religious devastation,” wrote Diane Bergant in “Preaching the New Lectionary.”
The very place where the Assyrians brought their darkness is precisely where Jesus first brings the light of the Gospel. It’s almost as if Jesus says: “I am going to begin my ministry precisely where darkness has the deepest hold.” If this northernmost territory can experience the transformation of Christ, then the rest of Israel can experience the same.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom, a light has shone.” When this happens there will be a joy and a festive celebration as at harvest time, or the winning of a spectacular battle. For an excellent example of winning a battle against vastly superior forces, read the Book of Judges, chapters 6 and 7. The Lord uses the weakest member of the weakest clan to trick the enemy into destroying each other. The Lord received a lot of glory through the obedience of humble Gideon.
In the second reading, Paul addresses the divisions taking place in the Corinthian Church. They focus on each other rather than on the Cross of Jesus Christ. In effect Paul says: “Do not put the focus on me or on any other human being, but on the crucified Christ.” The crucified Christ is the answer to all of our problems.
In the Gospel, Jesus moves to Galilee after the death of John the Baptist. He isn’t escaping out of fear. When John’s ministry has come to an end, Jesus moves to the Northern kingdom to fulfill the prophesy: “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in the land overshadowed by death light has arisen.”
On Jan. 12, we celebrated the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. After He was baptized, He came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened for Him and He saw the spirit of God descending like a dove upon Him. And a voice came from the heavens saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
If we are to understand what happened in the early weeks of His ministry following His baptism in the Jordan, we can turn to Peter in his sermon in the house of Cornelius: “After the baptism that John preached … God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing those oppressed by the devil.”
Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, in his book “The Holy Spirit in the Life of Jesus” tells us some “theologians of the earliest times were not therefore unaware of the Holy Spirit’s presence in Jesus from the moment of His human birth; they did however attribute a different and decisive significance to the solemn anointing received by Jesus in the Jordan to mark the beginning of His messianic mission. According to some of them, just as at the incarnation, the Word had become ‘Jesus,’ so at His baptismal anointing He had become ‘Christ,’ that is to say God’s Anointed one, the Messiah.”
Cantalamessa writes: “The Holy Spirit comes to anoint (which in biblical language means to consecrate and invest) Jesus with the powers necessary for His mission, which is not simply the mission of saving the human race but of saving it in a particular way, precisely laid down by the Father: the way of self-abasement, willing obedience, and expiratory sacrifice.”
Because of this special anointing Jesus received at the time of His baptism, we see an outbreak of deliverances, healings, conversions and exorcisms taking place wherever Jesus goes. All this flows from the anointing He received at His baptism. With Pentecost, these activities escalate at an ever-quickening pace.
What does this mean for all of us? The anointing Jesus received at His baptism flows out through Him and through us to sanctify us and others.
Do I realize that by my baptism I too am the Lord’s anointed? Do I realize that He has grasped me by the hand, formed me and set me as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness?
Are there people living in my daily environment who need my anointing presence, but to whom I do not advert? Are there people at work or at home who could use an encouraging word or a listening ear, but I don’t have the time to share with them what Christ so abundantly shares with me?
We are simply called to share with others the anointing Jesus has shared with us.