Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord
This weekend, the Church invites us to celebrate the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, one of the most revered feasts in the Christian calendar.
Clear and distinct in the first reading from the third section of the Book of Isaiah is a brilliantly triumphant note. Why? The long, dreary exile of the faithful Hebrews in Babylon has ended.
It was not all rejoicing, however. For those who returned to the Holy Land, life was not easy. The land was decimated.
Despite this, the prophet insists, a new day will come! It is not necessarily a prediction of material success, although this would be a part of it. Rather, the new day would come when the Chosen People realized their vocation. Then, when they returned to God, the world would see the majesty and power of the great God of Israel.
For its second reading, this liturgy presents a selection from the Epistle to the Ephesians. In the first generations after Jesus, as converts increased the numbers of the Christian community, great interest began to surround the question of who was entitled to the salvation secured by the Lord?
Prompting this interest was the fact that so many new converts were from pagan backgrounds. It intensified when, in short order, once-pagan Christians outnumbered the onetime Jewish Christians.
Part of the message of Jesus was that throughout the ages, God had spoken through, and to, the Chosen People, the descendants of Abraham, the Hebrews. Now, God spoke to all through Christ. Gentiles could expect salvation.
This promise undergirds the reading. Salvation procured by Jesus is open to any human being.
St. Matthew’s Gospel furnishes the last reading, the story of the Magi who came from the “East” to find, and then to adore, the newborn “king of the Jews.” The story is unique to Matthew. No other Gospel reports such a visit.
The story situates Jesus, the newborn son of Mary, in the great train of God’s saving works. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the birthplace of David, who as king established his own covenant with God. David ruled the Chosen People, but he was much more than a political leader. His task was to bring the people to God, God to the people.
The Magi were searching for the “king of the Jews.” The title often appears in the stories of Jesus offered in the Gospels. Christ’s kingship was the subject of Pilate’s interrogation when he tried Jesus on Good Friday. It was inscribed on the placard that was placed atop the cross as Jesus was dying.
The Lord is king. His majesty eclipses all else.
Finally, who were the Magi? No one knows exactly. Where was their home? We know only that they came from the mysterious East. How many of them? Tradition says three. The Gospel is silent.
It is unimportant. They were not Jews, searching for truth, for God; yet they found both in Jesus.
At the time of Jesus, salvation with its promise of God’s mercy and eternal life was seen as being primarily, if not exclusively, available to the chosen people. Indeed, Jesus was a Jew, born of a Jewish mother. Could people of other nationalities expect to be saved?
The message of this feast is that all people may hope for salvation through Jesus. None is preferred. None is excluded. All are beloved.
Nationality is no longer so much the issue, but sin, fear, guilt or indifference separate people from God or from a sense of being with God.
On this feast, the Church calls us to come to the Lord, born of Mary, the king of the Jews, the lamb slain on Calvary. He belongs to us all. He loves us all.
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