The Epiphany of the Lord

The Epiphany of the Lord

Sáb, 02 Ene 21 Lectio Divina - Año B

Readings: Is 60:1-6  Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13  Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6  Mt 2:1-12  

In today’s first reading Isaiah prophesies about a time of glory and splendor for Israel. This great time is represented by the symbol of light, when “the Lord shines.” This light that will come to the Israelites is intended not just for them but for all people, for “nations shall walk by your light.” Other nations (i.e. the Gentiles), in fact, will come with gifts to Israel in order to worship the Lord. These gifts include “gold and frankincense.” Thus, the fact that the magi bring gifts of “gold and frankincense” (as told in the Gospel reading) shows that the fulfilment of this prophesy comes with the birth of Jesus. He is the “light of the world” (see John 8:12) and people from all nations (represented first by the magi) come to give Him gifts and worship him.

The Apostle Paul here speaks of God’s plan of salvation for humanity that has been revealed in Jesus Christ. In fact, the word “epiphany,” which is today’s feast, means appearance or revelation. In referring to “the mystery” (a common word used by Paul) he is speaking of God’s plan of salvation that had been hidden but is now revealed and made manifest in the person of Christ. This plan of salvation, surprisingly for the Jews, includes the Gentiles (non-Jews). Not only are the Gentiles included but they have equal status in the New Covenant. Through the gospel of Jesus Christ, they are, in fact, “coheirs, members, and co-partners.” This welcoming of the Gentiles was foretold in today’s first reading and made evident in the gospel through the coming of the magi (who were Gentiles) to worship Jesus and recognise Him as the Messiah.

Background on the Gospel Reading

The visit of the Magi occurs directly before the story of the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt. Matthew’s Gospel tells a version of Jesus’ birth that is different than the one in Luke. Of the actual birth of Jesus, Matthew tells us little more than, “When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod . . . ” The story of the census is found only in Luke’s Gospel, but we hear about the visit of the Magi only in Matthew’s Gospel.

We know little about the Magi. They come from the East and journey to Bethlehem, following an astrological sign, so we believe them to be astrologers. We assume that there were three Magi based upon the naming of their three gifts. The Gospel does not say how many Magi paid homage to Jesus. In Matthew’s Gospel, they represent the Gentiles’ search for a saviour. Because the Magi represent the entire world, they also represent our search for Jesus.

We have come to consider the gifts they bring as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ role in salvation. We believe the meaning of the gifts to be Christological. Gold is presented as representative of Jesus’ kingship. Frankincense is a symbol of his divinity because priests burned the substance in the Temple. Myrrh, which was used to prepare the dead for burial, is offered in anticipation of Jesus’ death.

The word Epiphany means “manifestation” or “showing forth.” Historically several moments in Christ’s early life and ministry have been celebrated as “epiphanies,” including his birth in Bethlehem, the visit of the Magi, his baptism by John, and his first miracle at Cana.

Today we celebrate the first coming of non-Jews to the feet of Jesus. The Magi, good, holy and wise men who sought the truth, came from the East. Their profession was to watch the heavens and interpret any unusual signs. A brilliant star signalled to them that a king was born. Jesus came to a world that longed for God and awaited Him. Yet, when He came, not the chosen people but wise men from far came to pay him homage. At the birth of Jesus, different kinds of people reacted in different ways.

1) Hostility – as in crafty Herod who tried all he could to destroy Jesus, even through hypocritical devotion and false piety. The tiny and helpless Baby terrified him, and his only intent was to get rid of the Baby. Just as Pharaoh tried to eliminate Moses, so Herod tried to eliminate Jesus, the new Moses. Are there not people today who try to get rid of Jesus because he is inconvenient to them as he questions their life and challenges them to change? The genuine Christian is committed to do not what he likes but what Jesus asks.

2) Total indifference – as in the chief priests and the scribes who were lost in temple rituals and legal questions, and had no interest in Jesus. In our times too, many are immersed in external observances or worldly affairs, and Jesus means nothing to them.

3) Adoring and worshiping – like the wise men. Those who understand Jesus as God’s gift of love cannot but praise and worship Him. Fortunately there are such people also among us. Those who believe in Christ are not always those who carry a religious label. Pagans enter joyfully into the life of Jesus from the beginning and worship him, while Herod the Jew is scheming to put Jesus to death. Those who meet the Messiah rejoice, making him king of all their lives, and offer him their most precious gifts – as the Magi did.

The salvation prepared for the entire world is welcomed first by the Pagans. The scribes have the scriptures, but not the goodness to go and meet the Messiah; the Magi do not have the scriptures, but they believe, set out, seek, ask and find. They represent those who walk in faith and desire the vision. The faith of the Magi is a search and an effort to overcome whatever hinders them on their way to God. And having met the Messiah, they go back by another way. To change way is to change life.

Each one of us, therefore, who have really met Christ, is called to review our life and change our ways. The Magi fulfil a theological function; they acknowledge and confirm the unique dignity of the new-born King. Though pagans and ignorant of the Old Testament revelation, they recognize the Messiah, and are not scandalized by the poverty surrounding his birth. In contrast, the experts of the Law and the Scriptures fail to recognize him. This contrast goes on throughout the Gospel of Matthew: Jesus is rejected by the people of God and accepted by the Gentiles! That means, in front of God all ethnic barriers are broken and salvation is offered universally to all without distinction. There is also half-hearted response as in the case of many who recognized Jesus as a good man, but had no depth of faith or seriousness in responding to him. I am afraid, many among those who claim to be Christians are like them, not treasuring his teachings or obeying him, but only using his name as a trademark. What is our reaction to Jesus? Do we give him full and whole-hearted response in our daily lives? Are we perhaps, indifferent to him or hostile to him? Let us resolve today to follow the wise men to Bethlehem to worship the Lord and offer him our best – a life of faithful love and service. We shall surely return home wiser and better persons.