In the Modern Age, “Rationalism, Materialism and Literalism’’ have diminished our capacity to understand the world symbolically or sacramentally. We miss the depth of reality as we look for facts and accuracy of details.
Matthew’s short account of the baptism has myriad connections with the whole of salvation history—including us. Irenaeus and Athanasius call this recapitulation. Jesus takes the past and future into Himself and redeems it. He fulfills the Scriptures. He reveals the depth of reality and make our world holy. One example is Isaiah 42 which is “filled up” throughout Matthew’s entire Gospel. Isaiah ended today with these words, “See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.” God declares to us this new thing: His Servant Jesus.
Biblical language is often sacramental—the physical world is a symbol of the divine reality. So, when Matthew says that the heavens were opened, we must recall Isaiah 55:9 which uses the heavens as a metaphor for the great distance between God and us. Only God can open the veil and only He can bridge that gap! Matthew’s voice from heaven echoes Isaiah 42:1 where God says, “Here is my servant in whom My soul delights, I have put my spirit upon him.” Matthew uses the same words and he also tells us that the Holy Spirit descended like a dove upon Jesus. Isaiah’s servant “would not break a bruised reed or snuff out a flickering flame,” and Matthew’s Jesus (Mt 11:29) says, “[Come to me, you who are weary] …I am gentle and humble of heart.”
Isaiah says God’s servant will be “a light to the nations (or Gentiles).” Matthew 4 describes the beginning of Jesus’ ministry by quoting Isaiah 9 “Galilee of the Gentiles…a people in darkness have seen a great light.” Jesus is the light to the nations. When Isaiah says that the servant will, “open the eyes of the blind;” we turn to Matthew 9&20 where Jesus gave sight to the blind. Isaiah says the servant will bring prisoners from the dungeons and Matthew 27:52 reveals the symbolic depth of this promise—when Jesus died, the tombs were opened and saints were raised. He brings freedom from the dungeon of death.
The symbolic meaning of the Jordan River cannot be overstated. When Joshua (Joshua 3:1-17) led Israel into the Promised Land, the Jordan stopped flowing and they cross on dry land. The Jordan is a sacramental sign of the Exodus, which is connected to the language of Genesis 1 and symbolizes the new creation of Israel. Matthew tells us that the Holy Spirit was above the waters like a dove, pointing us to both creation and Noah’s ark—another new creation. And, there is more! Elijah (2 Kings 2) also parted the Jordan river. In Mt 17:12, Jesus said that John is Elijah.
Dear friends. we are baptized into Christ—we share His mission as the Servant of God. Jesus wants to make us a new creation, He wants to free us from slavery in Egypt (as Fr. Christian preached last week). Baptism and the Holy Spirit makes us Sacraments. In us and through us Jesus gives sight to the blind and freedom to those in captivity. We, who eat and drink with the Risen Lord, (like Peter in Acts) are the witnesses.