Father MacEvily on Matt 3:13-17 for Sunday Mass, Jan 9~Baptism of the Lord
Posted by Dim Bulb on January 5, 2011
Mat 3:13 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to the Jordan, unto John, to be baptized by him.
Then. Whilst John was engaged in his ministry of baptizing and preaching
the near approach of the Kingdom of Heaven, and the near advent of Him, of whose infinite dignity and superiority above himself, as being the promised Redeemer of the world, he was treating with the crowds who flocked to hear him, then, very opportunely, our Lord came from Galilee i.e., Nazareth, the city of Galilee, where He lived a private life, exercising his father’s (Joseph) trade and obeying his parents, He came to the Jordan, unto John, i.e., to the part of the Jordan where John was baptizing for the Jordan flows through Galilee to be baptized by him; that thus, after receiving public testimony from John, and from Heaven at the same time, he would be at once ready to enter on His mission in Judea, where, by the Divine disposition of His Heavenly Father, the Gospel was to be first preached. Several reasons are assigned by the holy Fathers why our Lord, who never sinned, and consequently needed not be baptized unto penance for sin, came privately to receive this baptism from John, mixing Himself up with Pharisees, Publicans, soldiers and harlots. The principal of which are 1. As He made circumcision a sign of the Jewish people of old, so He wished to make baptism a sign of His chosen people in the New Law; and He wished that John’s baptism would denote this. 2. In order to cure the patients, He wished to become like them. 3. He wished to show, in the descent of the Holy Ghost, that the waters were sanctified by His touch, and that the Holy Ghost came down in His own baptism, typified by that of John. 4. He wished to give authority and weight to John s testimony regarding Himself. Our Lord Himself assigns one reason, viz., that by doing so He should fulfill all justice (v. 15), that is, fulfill all the
precepts of God, this among the rest. Hence, St. Chrysostom (Hom, de Baptismo Christi) says, Justice is the fulfilment of all God’s commandments. But some one will ask, what justice is this, to be baptized? It was justice to obey the Prophet, as, therefore, He was circumcised, offered sacrifice, observed the Jewish festivals so He observed this remaining one, to obey the baptizing Prophet, whom God sent to baptize the people. Our Lord’s coming to John’s baptism afforded an occasion of Simony being publicly borne to Him from heaven, and John s baptism in the Jordan, which attracted vast crowds, afforded him an opportunity of humbling himself before the Son of God, and of proclaiming His infinite superiority over himself. St. Chrysostom (loco citato) says, For no other cause was that laver (John s baptism) instituted except to prepare the way for all to embrace the faith of Christ. Hence, he says: I came to baptize, therefore, that He might be manifested in Israel (John 1:31). But, I ask, might he not preach and attract the people without baptism: Not so easily. If there were preaching without baptism, all would not have readily come together; nor, could they have so readily learned, by comparison, the pre-eminence of Christ; because, the multitude went out not to hear what He said. Why, then? That, confessing their sins, they might be baptized. But coming, they were taught what
related to Christ.
Mat 3:14 But John stayed him, saying: I ought to be baptized by thee, and comest thou to me?
But John stayed Him, saying. It is clear from these words, that the Baptist knew Him to be the Son of God before His baptism. This he knew from an inspiration or revelation divinely accorded to him. This is not opposed to what the Baptist says (John 1:33), But I knew Him not . , . but upon whom thou shalt see the Holy Ghost descending. . . . He it is that baptizcth in the Holy Ghost. These latter words only contain a corroborative testimony, confirming the faith John had before received from revelation, regarding our Lord’s Divinity before he baptized Him. The Greek word for I knew Him not (ουκ ηδειν), might be rendered, I saw Him not. But the moment he saw our Lord coming to baptism, then, at once, he knew Him by divine instinct to be Him whom he knew to be born, whom he saluted from his mother’s womb, whom he proclaimed to be greater and stronger than himself, whose baptism
would be in the Holy Ghost, and in five. The subsequent voice which he heard from the cloud (v. 17), gave him no new knowledge. It only confirmed his faith in the Divinity of Christ. But the Baptist adduces (John 1:33), this last public communication as a testimony to our Lord s Divinity, as the Jews would have attached, probably, but comparatively little weight to any private revelation made to himself on this head, and to show he was not influenced by any private considerations in bearing testimony to Christ.
Stayed Him. This arose from a feeling of self-unworthiness, compared with Him towards whom he was unworthy to discharge the most menial service. He also remembered the efficacy of that baptism which was to be in the Holy Ghost andfire. The Greek (διεκωλυεν) means, urgently sought to prohibit him, saying, I ought to be baptized by thee. For, I ought, the Greek (χρειαν εχω) means, I need your baptism. He speaks of the spiritual effects of Christ’s baptism, in pouring the Holy Ghost into his soul. He needed to be cleansed by Christ, from several venial and light faults, and to be perfected by the Holy Ghost. But the words do not imply a precept to have recourse to Christ’s baptism in water, which was not yet instituted. It is commonly believed, that John was sanctified in his mother s womb, and cleansed from original sin, on the occasion of the Blessed Virgin visiting St. Elizabeth, when John leaped
with joy is her womb. But this was owing to the future merits of Christ. Hence, the words of John are verified in this sense.
And comest thou to me? Those words are emphatic. Cometh the gold to the
clay? the sun to the lamp? the heir to the servant? the Lord to his precursor? the Lamb without spot to the sinner? &c.
Mat 3:15 And Jesus answering, said to him: Suffer it to be so now. For so it becometh us to fulfil all justice. Then he suffered him.
Suffer it now. Our Lord, approving of John’s reason for declining to
baptize Him, tells him to suffer Him at present (concealing, only for a time
[now] His Divinity, which would be revealed in duo time hereafter), to receive baptism at his hands; saying, that far from it being indecent or unbecoming in John, as the Baptist humbly insinuated, to bestow baptism on Christ, it was, on the contrary, meet and becoming. It becometh us to fulfil all justice. By all justice, may be understood everything, be it ever so minute, or apparently trivial, agreeable to God and conducive to man’s sanctification, whether it be preceptive, or merely of counsel and perfection. It becomes us, including John. He and our Blessed Redeemer were sent by God, and it behooves those appointed to teach others, to give the example of strict observance and perfection to others (see v. 13, St. Chrysostom). It may be,
that our Lord speaks of Himself only in the plural number. Our Lord would here seem to insinuate that it was the will of God, that He would be baptized by John; and hence, both our Redeemer, who received it, and John, who was sent by God to baptize (John 1:33),by obeying the will of God, fulfilled what was agreeable to Him.
In these words, our Lord assigns the general reason why He desired to receive John’s baptism. But this general reason does not exclude the other particular reasons assigned for the same by the holy Fathers, viz., our Lord’s desire to show His approbation of John’s baptism to meet an objection the Pharisees might afterwards allege, that He Himself did not receive John’s baptism to give an example of humility, &c. (see v. 13).
Then he suffered Him, no longer declining to baptize Him. He suffered Him to
enter the river, and be merged in the water, out of which our Lord forthwith came out after receiving baptism by immersion.
Mat 3:16 And Jesus being baptized, forthwith came out of the water: and lo, the heavens were opened to him: and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon him.
Forthwith, is connected by some commentators with " came out. And these say, the Evangelist uses the word on purpose to convey, that while others, who were baptized, remained in the water until they confessed their sins, our Lord,, having nothing to confess, went up at once, after His baptism, out of the water. However, it is more probably to be joined with the following forthwith the heavens were opened. This is the construction warranted by St. Mark 1:10. St. Luke 3:21 says, that while He was praying, heaven was opened. Prayer was, most likely, the attitude in which our Lord placed Himself, immediately on coming out of the water after baptism.
And behold the heavens were opened to Him: and He saw the Spirit of God, &c. It is disputed whether he saw refers to our Lord or to the Baptist. The natural construction would make it refer most likely to our Lord. On the other hand, the Greek for upon him is επ αυτο, upon him not the reciprocal ἑαυτοῦ, himself. This would refer it to John, unless we say the personal him is used for the reciprocal himself- an attic construction adopted by the Vulgate, super se. One thing is certain, whether this refer to the Baptist or not, that he saw the Holy Ghost descending on our Lord (John 1:34). It is disputed whether the multitude saw the heavens opened, and heard the voice. St. Luke, as if insinuating this, pointedly remarks that, the heavens were opened &c., when all the people were baptized (Luke 3:21). The affirmative is held by some; because, it was to give them a proof of His Divinity, this occurred. These understand the Latin words, aperti, sunt ei cæli to mean openedfor Him or on His account. Others maintain the negative; because, the Baptist says (John 1:32), I saw the Spirit descending. If all the multitude saw, he would have said, WE saw &c., and in that case, what need was there of John’s testimony to announce this to the people, when they themselves saw it as well as the Baptist? Moreover, would not John’s disciples, who closely adhered to their master, have seen it? and it is clearly insinuated (John 3:28), that they did not. Besides, our Lord would not, at this time, wish to reveal the mystery of the Trinity to the people; and when a similar revelation was made at His transfiguration (Matt 17:9), He charged the disciples to tell it to no one till after His resurrection. This manifestation was made to John, that he might afterwards make use of it as a testimony; and the Heavenly Father sent the Spirit in the form of a dove, not to give it to our Lord, who, from His incarnation was filled with the Holy Ghost, without measure; but, to manifest
that He was, as had been promised (Isa 61:1-3), anointed with the gifts of the Holy Ghost, when He went on His public mission of preaching to the poor, and healing the contrite of heart, &c.
The heavens were opened that is to say, a fissure or rent was made in the upper regions of the air, out of which, bordered with light, the dove, symbolizing the Holy Ghost, came forth, and the voice issued.
And he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, &c. St. Luke says (3:21), in a bodily shape. Most likely, this was not a real dove, but a solid body, like a
dove, formed of material elements, moved by some Divine agency, and having performed its function, resolving itself again into the original elements that composed it. It visibly exhibited to the eyes of our Lord and of the Baptist, the presence of the Holy Ghost, who is by nature invisible. The four Evangelists say, As a dove, implying likeness or similitude- This dove-like form descended to point out that our Lord, in whom already, from His incarnation, dwelt the plenitude of the Divinity and to whom God did not give the Spirit by measure, was filled with gifts of the Holy Ghost, of which the dove was a befitting emblem. In this interpretation, there is no room for error or misconception, regarding the locomotion or change of place, by the Holy Ghost. As the dove was employed of old, to point out that the ancient world was saved from the universal shipwreck; so now a dove is employed by the Holy Ghost, to point Him out, who is to rescue mankind from eternal death and sin. This dove was not, like the humanity of our Lord, hypostatically united to the person of the Holy Ghost; but only a visible symbol of His presence, with the fulness of His gifts, in our Reedeemer. It is to be observed, that what happened to Him symbolizes, what happens to us at baptism. When we receive the gifts of the Holy Ghost, heaven opens to us; and we become sons of God by the grace of adoption received from the Eternal Father.
Mat 3:17 And behold a voice from heaven saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
And behold, another event no less stupendous than the descent from heaven of the dove; a voice from heaven, a distinct, articulate voice, representing God, the Father. The voice affecting the sense of hearing came from the same place, whence issued the dove, which affected the sense of seeing. The voice without the dove, would not certainly point out Christ, as distinctly referred to, any more than any one else. Nor would the dove without the voice clearly intimate anything. The voice showed what it was the dove symbolized.
This in my Beloved Son. Both Mark and Luke concur in the reading, Thou art my beloved Son which is, therefore, considered the more probable reading. And, as it was to our Lord the heavens were opened, most likely, it was to Him also the voice was addressed. However, St. Matthew gives the sense.
My beloved Son. The article prefixed to beloved, ο αγαπητος (the beloved), and to Son also, ο υιος (the Son), point to Him, as the natural, the only and eternally begotten and singularly Moved Son of God, partaking of the same Divine nature, con substantial and co-eternal with Him.
In whom I am well pleased. That is, in whom I feel an infinite complacency, in whom I am reconciled to a sinful world, in whom I am pleased with every one else; nor am I pleased in anyone else, save through Him.
In looking on the face of His beloved Son, it no longer repenteth God that He
made man (Gen 6:6). He is now pleased with sinful man, through His beloved
Son, Jesus Christ. The dove is once more employed, as the messenger of peace and reconciliation of God with man, after the storm of His wrath is appeased. The words of this verse contain an allusion to the words of Isaias 42:1~Behold my servant, I will uphold him: my elect, my soul delighteth in him: I have given my spirit upon him.
Here, as is remarked by St. Jerome (in hunc locum) we have revealed to the
Baptist, the mystery of the Adorable Trinity, with a distinctness, not vouchsafed to any of the ancient Patriarchs or Prophets. The Father, speaking in a distinct voice, of His Son. The Son, receiving testimony in His mortal visible flesh. The Holy Ghost, the Spirit of God, in the visible form of a dove.