- Isaiah 60: 1-6. Gentiles come from distant lands, attracted by the splendor of Jerusalem, bringing gifts and the “wealth of nations.” They will be the sons and daughters of the Holy City.
- Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6. Paul preaches the mystery, hidden from all eternity until now, that gentiles are co-heirs and “co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
- Matthew 2:1-12. The Magi from the east come with gifts seeking the newborn King of the Jews. Herod and all Jerusalem are upset by this.
Thoughts for your Consideration:
This weekend we celebrate Epiphany. The story in the Gospel of Matthew where the wise Magi from the east follow the star that leads them to the King of the Jews. This is the scripture event from which the Christmas tradition of gift giving originates with. The gifts of the Magi is very much relevant and meaningful to us as we celebrate the Christmas season, but for the moment let us reflect on two aspects of this story: where the Magi came from, and how was their visit and offerings received by Herod and all of Jerusalem.
Our tradition of offering gifts is often times done within the association of our family, friends and associates, intimate members of our lives. But the Magi where neither family, friends nor associates. They did not even share the same religious faith as Mary and Joseph. They were complete strangers from distant lands that followed a cosmological and universal symbol which lead them to a foreign country in search of a great truth.
All three readings for this weekend testify to an amazing aspect of the Gospel: that the promise of Jesus Christ does not belong to any one group of people. While the first covenant was defined as a contract between God and a chosen people this new covenant that was sealed through Christ is one that is made with all people. Isaiah prophesies about this when he describes Jerusalem as a Holy City by virtue that it belongs to all and it will be enriched by foreign nations. Its sons and daughters will be heralded from distant lands. Paul goes even further by declaring that the Gentiles will not come into this new covenant relationship as second class citizens, instead they are to be seen as “co-heirs” and “co-partners” through Jesus Christ. The gospel story compliments Isaiah and Paul by testifying to the celebrated birth of Christ by foreign Magi in pursuit of a truth that was a much relevant to them as it was to all of Jerusalem.
But Jerusalem, and Herod especially, was not at all thrilled with this outside exposure. As you can imagine, a chosen people were not too thrilled with the prospect of sharing their divine promise and hope with others. This was especially true for Herod and for those who ruled Jerusalem with him. Such external influences from the east was outside of Herod’s political power base (the Temple authority and of course, Rome) and as such they were a direct challenge to his political stability.
It should be noted that this liturgical feast and these readings will be celebrated on the weekend of January 1st which is observed as the World Day of Peace by the Catholic Church. This year’s World Day of Peace Message: “Religious Freedom, The Path to Peace,” is very much relevant to these three readings. With this message Pope Benedict XVI is again addressing a challenge from the East, although the challenge this time around is very different. The Magi symbolize strangers with different faith traditions who pursue the universal and divine truth, this pursuit leads them to a humble manger and the newborn savior of the world. In defending religious freedom Pope Benedict maintains that while the Church “is duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the way, the truth and the life … this in no way excludes dialogue and the common pursuit of the truth in different areas of life, since, as Saint Thomas Aquinas would say, “every truth, whoever utters it, comes from the Holy Spirit””.
The challenge from the east this time is religious fundamentalism. This challenge is seen very clearly in some of the atrocities in Iraq, the Middle East and Asia but the seeds of religious and anti-religious fundamentalism can also be found in the west. The goal of religion is to pursuit the universal truth and the common good and because of that Pope Benedict XVI is urging us all to pursue dialogue in hopes of coming to a common awareness our own truth and divine unity. According to the reading for this weekend the pursuit of the truth will result in unity and peace as it did with the Magi, not in division and conflict as it did with Herod.