Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, Cycle B: January 4, 2009 Scripture Readings First: Isaiah 60: 1-6. Second: Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6.

Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12. Prepared by: Fr. Stephen Dominic Hayes, OP 1. Subject Matter

The celebration of the Epiphany focuses on the "manifestation" of the Lord (Gk.: Epiphania) -the showing forth to the world of the Savior born for us at Christmas. This day has been frequently celebrated in the Christian world with especial joy and solemnity as the coming of the revelation of God and his life-giving Word, long given from the time of the patriarchs to Israel and to Israel alone, now come in the final age, to all the nations of the world who are represented in a figurative way by the Magi who come bearing gifts to the child of Bethlehem, who is Son of David, the King of the Jews and God Almighty come to dwell among men. The Magi come from the opposite end of the world in a biblically extraordinary way. Their title, (Greek:“magoi”) associates them with the pagan priesthoods ancient serving the false worship “the whole host of heaven” instead of the one true God; traditional servants of the kings of Babylon as astrologers, magicians and seers, they now come from the lands out of which God summoned Abraham, seeking in ignorance what he found in obedience. After consulting the Scriptures entrusted to Israel, they finally find the Messiah in the arms and household of Mary. Insofar as they represent all those seekers who begin in spiritual darkness seeking Christ, and are led by degrees to him by the Providence of God, the Magi are a sign of hope for all of us who seek to know God in spirit and in truth. As they kneel before the child Jesus, we are invited to discover Christ with a like humility, and in the same place: in the royal household of God where Jesus and Mary dwell, in the body which is the new union of Jew and Gentile, Christ’s holy Catholic Church. Christ is light. As the Magi followed the star to find a true light of the world in the arms of Mary, so does the Catholic Church gather in the nations of the world to whom the revelation of God was not given. Epiphany is therefore celebrated in many nations as the revelation of Christ to the whole world. As the Magi come from the opposite spiritual end of the world at the beginning of Christ's life, so are we called to ceaselessly seek after Christ, in imitation of them. These truly wise men seek out God, and then “return to their own country” - the kingdom of heaven - by "another way" - by following him who is the 'light of the world' and

'the way and the truth and the life.'

The notion of "manifestation" or public revelation of Christ includes, traditionally, not only in the visit of the Magi, but the revelation of Christ's identity and that of the Trinity at the Baptism of the in the Jordan, and the power of God at work in Jesus manifested in the miracle at Cana. Isaiah 60: 1-6.: This section of Deutero-Isaiah contains a lyrical description of the glories of the new Jerusalem, which is coming. What is seen coming from afar off in Chapter 54 is now seen being accomplished in Chapter 60. The specific reading for Epiphany combines the images of light shining in darkness, the approach of the Gentiles in prayer and holiness, and the gifts, which they bring, associated as tribute in the ancient world; the same combination is found in Matthew's weaving of the narrative of the Magi. The Gentiles who are mentioned participate in different ways: Midian, Ephah, and Sheba are descendents of Abraham and renowned for wisdom as well as riches; they now share a patrimony with Jerusalem. The reference to Sheba and Midian here is connected by Matthew to Psalm 72 (the Responsorial Psalm for Epiphany and provides a textual basis for associating the Magi with the royal visitors prophesied to come from east (Arabia and Sheba) and west (Tarshish end the isles) who come to pay homage to the Messianic King. Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6: This brief selection of verses from Ephesians emphasizes the fundamental lesson of the Epiphany: Christ revealed to the Gentiles, who are now “coheirs, companions, and co-partners” with the gentiles in God’s plan of salvation. The Greek terms are even more emphatic in its rhetorical force: “sygklêronoma, sysôma, symmetocha”. Matthew 2:1-12: The Magi (Gk: magoi) are figures about whom much scholarly ink has been spilled in recent times. In the tradition, the various prophecies in Isaiah, andin the book of Psalms concerning the royal Messiah who opens up the worship of God to participation by Gentiles has turned the Magi into the Three Kings of the Christmas carol. In the book of Daniel, Magi appear as advisers and seers, astrologers and magicians to the king of Babylon, and later, to the kings of Persia. They are associated with Chaldea, the southern part of Mesopotamia, which is the historical location of not only Babylon, but of the Sumerian Empire and the city of Ur, out of which God originally called Abraham and his family. This was in ancient times a network of small city states, the kings of which were also priests, for whom astrological and heavenly phenomena were an object of study; so there is a historical and cultural connection between the roles of priests and kings in the areas of study for which the Magi are historically remembered. In Matthew's Gospel, they represent the heights of Gentile knowledge, as well as Gentile idolatry. They come from the land that has traditionally represented pride, false worship, and enmity to God from the time the building of the Tower of Babel to the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish people to Babylon. It is from this opposite spiritual pole of the earth that the Magi come to Jerusalem, seeking a king of the Jews, who is to be light and truth for them as well. Scholars in the past have suggested all kinds of explanations of the identity of the star of Bethlehem: a comet, a particular existing star, or even a nova: the present fashionable idea seems to be an astronomical but an astrological event; this would explain why such an event would go unnoticed except by practitioners of the occult, such as the Magi. The current hot idea is that the “star” was the double lunar occultation of Jupiter in the House of Aries ( the astrological sign associated anciently with the Jews) which occurred in 6 B.C on March 20

2. Exegetical Notes

and April 17. This date would also seem to fit with the death of Herod the Great, commonly calculated to have occurred in 4 B.C. Scripturally, the appearance of the star is a fulfillment of the Gentile prophet Balaam’s announcement of the rising the star from Jacob (Numbers 24:17).

The Magi, scrutinizing the skies for divine truth, a lead in spite of the spiritual blindness by the grace of God to Jerusalem, where, by consulting the Scriptures and Revelation committed to Israel, they are able to locate the child they seek. They thus proceed from nearly natural knowledge to supernatural knowledge, and finally to the face-to-face encounter with the Messiah whose kingship accept by their obeisance as they enter the house of Mary and her Child. In a similar way, the Gentiles, St. Paul points out in the first chapter of Romans, were led formally by their consciences, but aided by the revelation given to Israel, they have discovered him in the household of God, which is the Catholic Church.

3. References to the Catechism of the Catholic Church

CCC 486 : The Father's only Son, conceived as a man in the womb of the Virgin Mary, is "Christ," that is to say, anointed by the Holy Spirit, from the beginning of the history of his existence, though the manifestation of this fact takes place only progressively: to the shepherds, to the Magi, to John the Baptist, to the disciples. Thus the whole life of Jesus Christ will make manifest. "How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power." CCC 528 : ... The great feast of the fifth and he celebrates Federation Jesus by the wise men (magi) from the East, together with his baptism in Jordan and the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee. In the Magi, representatives of the neighboring pagan religions, the Gospel sees the first fruits of the nations, who welcomed the good news of salvation through the Incarnation. The Magi's coming to Jerusalem in order to pay homage to the king of the Jews shows that they seek in Israel, in the messianic light of the star of David, the one who will be king of the nations. Their coming means that pagans can discover Jesus and worship him as God and Savior of the world only by turning towards the Jews and receiving from them the messianic promise as contained in the Old Testament. ... CCC 724: In Mary, the Holy Spirit manifests the Son of the Father, now become the Son of the Virgin. She is the burning bush of the definitive theophany. Filled with the Holy Spirit, she makes the Word visible in the humility of his flesh. It is to the poor and to the first representatives of the Gentiles, that she makes him known. CCC 2105: The duty of offering God genuine worship concerns man both individually and socially. .. Christians are called to be the light of the world. Thus the Church shows for the kingship of Christ over all creation and in particular over human societies.

4. Patristic Commentary

St. John Chrysostom, (The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 7.): The star appeared in the heavens, calling the wise men from on high. They may long pilgrimage to worship the one who lends one clothes in the manger. The prophets of old had proclaimed his coming. These and all the other events were more than human.

Rabanus Maurus (In the Catena Aurea): The Magi are men who inquire into the nature of things philosophically, but common speech uses Magi for wizards. In their own country, however, they are held another repute, being the philosophers of the Chaldeans, in whose lore kings and princes of that nation are taught, and by which themselves knew the birth of the Lord. St. Leo the Great, (Sermons, 31.2): The Magi, judging as men, sought in the royal city for him, whom they had been told was born a King. But he who took the form of a servant, and came forth not to judge but to be judged, chose Bethlehem for his birth, Jerusalem for his death. St. Gregory the Great, (40 Gospel Homilies, 10.1): We must ask what it means that when our Redeemer was born, an angel appeared to the shepherds in Judea, but a star not an angel guided the Magi from the East to worship him. This was the reason: it was a reasoning being, an angel, who preached to the Jews as persons capable of using their reason. But a sign and not a voice guided the Gentiles, and were not prepared to make full use of reason to know the Lord. Hence Paul says that "prophecy has been given for believers, not for unbelievers, but signs have been given for unbelievers and not for believers." St. Augustine of Hippo (quoted in the Catena Aurea): Gold as paid to a mighty king, frankincense, as a sacrifice to God; myrrh, as one who is to die for the sins of all. St. Ambrose ( In Luc. 2:45): The star is the way, and the way is Christ; and according to the mystery of the incarnation Christ is a star. He is a blazing and the morning Star. Thus where Herod is, the star is not seen; where Christ is, there it is again seen and points out the way. Incomplete Work on Matthew, (Homily 2): Do you think they would have adored a boy who did not understand the honor of their adoration, unless they had believed that God was in him? Therefore they did not postpone their honoring of him, as one childishly lacking understanding. They treated him as one whose divinity is aware of everything. Even the very nature of the gifts they offered gave witness that they had a certain intimation of the infant divinity. St. Gregory the Great, (40 Gospel Homilies, 10.6): There is something more to be understood about the gold, incense and myrrh. Solomon testifies that gold symbolizes wisdom when he says, "a pleasing treasure lies in the mouth of the wise." The psalmist bears witness to that instance, which prayer offers to guard what he says, "Let my prayers rise as incense in your site." The myrrh indicates the mortification of our bodies, of which the holy Church speaks of its workmen who strive even unto death on behalf of God, "my hands dripped with myrrh." And so do we too offer gold to the newborn king if we shine in his sight with the brightness of the wisdom from on high. We too offer him incense, if we enkindle on the altar of our hearts the thoughts of our human minds by our holy pursuit of prayer… and we offer him myrrh, if we mortify the vices of our bodies by our self-denial. Myrrh brings it about, as I have said, that dead bodies do not decompose. … therefore we are offering myrrh to God when we employ the spice of self-restraint to keep this earthly body of ours from decomposing through decadence. Later Christian development of the Magi has personalized them to high degree: the eastern Church favors twelve magi; in the Occident, they are portrayed as three in number, based on the three types of gift which are offered. In the West, their traditional names are Gaspar,

• •

5. Examples from the Saints and Other Exemplars

Melchior, and Balthasar; they are portrayed as representing the three continents in the ancient world, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

It is notable that Christ manifest itself to three classes of people: to those were ignorant of God, in the persons of the Magi; to the poor and marginalized of Israel, in the persons of the shepherds; and to those who truly sought God to do his will, in the persons of Mary and Joseph. Those whose eyes were dark to the light of Bethlehem star included those who held themselves to be religious, in the person of the Jewish high priests and elders, and those who saw Jesus as a threat to their worldly lives, in the person of Herod.


Pope Benedict XV ( ZENIT ZB05082005 ): Going into the house, the Magi saw the child... the new King, to whom they now paid homage, was quite unlike what they were expecting. In this way, they had to learn that God is not as you we usually imagined to be. This is where their inner journey began. ... they had to learn to give themselves-no lesser gift would be sufficient for this king. They had to learn that their lives must be conformed to this divine way of exercising power, to God's own way of being. They must become men of truth, of justice, of goodness, of forgiveness, of mercy... They will have to ask: how can I serve God's presence in the world? They must learn to lose their life and in this way to find it. Having left Jerusalem behind, they must not deviate from the path marked out by the true King, as they follow Jesus. Pope Benedict XVI ( ZENIT ZB 05081905 ): The Magi set out because of a deep desire, which prompted them to leave everything to begin their journey. It was as though they had always been waiting for that star. It was as if the journey had always been a part of their destiny, and was finally about to begin..... When the Magi came to Bethlehem, "going into the house they saw the Child with Mary his Mother, and they fell down and worshipped him" (Matt. 2:11). Here at last was the long-awaited moment-their encounter with Jesus. ... In order to find the Savior, one has to enter the house, which is the Church. ... here is the culmination of the whole journey: encounter becomes adoration; it blossoms into an act of faith and love which acknowledges in Jesus, born of Mary, the Son of God made man. ... The secret of holiness is friendship with Christ and faithful obedience to his will.

7. Other Considerations

The sometimes forgotten character in this narrative of the Magi is the "fourth king", Herod the Great,- an opportunist, a creature of Rome appointed as "King of the Jews", and a man who finds his kingship threatened by the appearance of the child who is to fulfill the ancient prophecies to David preserving his line of kingship by divine power. Herod is an Idumean – a son of Esau, who feared being supplanted by his upstart brother Jacob; now the claims to kingship of Jesus, the descendent of Jacob, seemed to threaten Herod and his kingship. Herod makes the Magi promise to notify him of where the child may be found, so that “he may come to worship him”; in fact, he will send soldiers to Bethlehem to destroy the child. The same revelation that turns soothsayers and idolaters into pilgrim seekers makes a murderer of the man who seeks to hold on to his worldly power. The same light that summons true seekers into deeper truth plunges the wicked heart into deeper confusion, and as at the Cross, so in this passage, those who have contact with Christ inevitably sort themselves into sheep and goats ( Matthew 25:31-40). So the eschatological themes

celebrated during Advent may be seen to be contained in the Epiphany celebration as well. Recommended Resources Benedict XVI, Pope. Benedictus: Day by Day with Pope Benedict XVI. Yonkers, Ignatius Press/ Magnificat 2006. New York: Magnificat: SAS, 2006. Copyright

Brown, Raymond E., S.S., Fitzmeyer, Joseph, S.J., and Murphy, Roland E., O. Carm. The Jerome Biblical Commentary. Two Vols. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968. Harrington, Daniel J, S.J. The Gospel of Matthew. Sacra Pagina Series, Vol. 1: Daniel J Harrington, ed. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991. Jurgens, William A. The Faith of the Early Fathers. 3 Vols. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1979. Oden, Thomas C., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. New Testament, Vol. 1a, Matthew 1-13. Manlio Simonetti, ed. Downers Grove, IL : Intervarsity Press, (Institute of Classical Christian Studies), 2002. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels Collected out of the Works of the Fathers. Volume III- Pt. II: St. Luke. Albany, N.Y.: Preserving Christian Publications, Inc., 2001.

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