– Fr Fernando Armellini SCJ
Claretian Publications, Macau
One scene in today’s Gospel involves three images: the opening of the heavens, the dove, and the voice from heaven. John uses images well known to his readers, and the meaning is not difficult for us to grasp. Let’s start with “the heavens opened.”
In the last centuries before Christ, the people of Israel had the feeling that heaven was closed. Outraged by the sins and unfaithfulness of his people, God had withdrawn into his world. The pious Israelites were wondering: when will this distressing silence end? They called upon him thus: “O Lord, you are our Father….. do not remember our iniquity forever. Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!” (Is 64:7-8; 63:19).
Affirming that with the beginning of the public life of Jesus, the heavens are torn, Matthew gives the readers a surprising piece of news. God has heard the prayer of his people. He has opened heaven and will never close it again.
The second image is that of “the dove.” The Spirit comes not like the flooding waters or as fire and brimstone of the old testament but, like a dove and rests upon Jesus: It is all tenderness, affection, and kindness. The dove was also the symbol of attachment to its nest. If the evangelist had this idea in mind, he wants to tell us that the Spirit seeks Jesus as a dove seeks its nest. Jesus is the temple where the Spirit finds its permanent home.
The third image, “the voice from heaven,” is intended to define, in the name of God, the identity of Jesus. To the Christians of his community, Matthew reports the judgment of the Lord with a phrase that alludes to Old Testament texts.
The beloved son. This refers to the trial Abraham was subjected to. He was asked to offer his only and well-beloved son, Isaac (Gen 22:2, 12, 16). By applying this title to Jesus, God invites us not to consider him a king or a prophet like the others. He, like Isaac, is the only, the beloved son.
In whom I am well pleased. We have read this expression in the first verse of today’s reading (Is 42:1). God declares that Jesus is the servant of whom the prophet spoke. He is the one sent to establish the law and justice in the world. To fulfill this mission, he will offer his life.