SOLEMNITY OF THE EPIPHANY
Ep. 3, 2-3.5-6
Mt. 2, 1-12
Epiphany is the great feast of the universality of salvation: God has called all people to participate in the messianic newness of Christ. The biblical texts of today represent a mature reflection about the mystery that we celebrate. Isaiah presents Jerusalem, the holy city and religious center of the people of the Old Testament, full of light and visited by peoples of all the earth that go there looking for God (first reading). Paul, in a refined and precise language, expresses the theological content of the feast: “all people share the same inheritance…and the same promise that has been made to them, in Christ Jesus, through the Gospel” (second reading). The evangelical narration of the visit of the Magi, far from being an infantile and sentimental fable, represents the theology of the primitive Church that presents Jesus as the Messiah announced in the ancient prophecies, rejected by Israel and revealed to the pagan peoples that render him homage (Gospel). All of today’s celebration is a song of light and joy to the love of God that loves all men and women and offers salvation to all in Jesus the Messiah.
The first reading (Is. 60, 1-6) presents Jerusalem, symbol of the presence of God, clothed in light. The reading describes a dawning, a luminous aurora above the city. God himself enlightens it: “the glory of the Lord is rising on you” (v. 1). Though “night still covers the earth and darkness the peoples”, about Jerusalem “above you the Lord now rises and your glory appears” (v. 2). The Lord brings the light of his glory to her to disperse, from her, the darkness of the world (v. 2). Unto her, converge, like an immense river, people of all the earth. The holy city is like a pole of attraction to which all peoples journey in pilgrimage: “The nations come to your light and kings to your dawning brightness…all are assembling and coming toward you, your sons from far away and your daughters being tenderly carried” (Is. 60, 3-4). To Jerusalem they bring their treasures as a sign of adoration and servitude: “Since the riches of the sea will flow to you, the wealth of the nations come to you” (Is. 60, 5). The intuition of the prophet is a new insight and a fundamental theological value in biblical revelation: the God of Israel is the God of all peoples. God that has revealed himself to the people of the old covenant illumines with his salvation all of the earth. Certainly the text underlines the value of the city, revealing a certain Israelite nationalism: the city, before humbled, now is an object of glory and of international recognition. However, that which is most important in the poem is the universal horizon of the illumined flashes of Jerusalem and the pilgrimage of entire peoples unto her. Sons of the dispersed cities, that is to say, Hebrews of the Diaspora, and foreign peoples, begin to journey to contemplate, celebrate and live in the joy of that light that seems to know no setting. The light that overflows from the city is the life and salvation of God that does not have limits or end, in space or history, but reaches all men and women without distinction.
The second reading (Ep. 3, 2-3.5-6) exposes that which Paul calls “the mystery”, that is to say, the saving plan of God manifested now in the preaching of the Gospel to all peoples. The hoped for Messiah has not been destined only for Israel, but has been sent to all peoples of the earth. For Paul this is the great “mystery”, “a mystery that has now been revealed through the Spirit to his holy apostles and prophets was unknown to any men in past generations” (Ep. 3, 5). In the center of this divine plan is Jesus, the Messiah. The apostles and prophets of the Church proclaim without end this good news for all men and women: in virtue of the Gospel all share the same inheritance, all are called to make up the same body of Christ that is the universal Church, and all participate in the same promise made by God to the patriarchs of old.
(Mt. 2, 1-12) is a magnificent
theological page, of oriental flavor and full of rich symbols. In the first place, Matthew wants to offer a
spiritual and theological understanding of the birth of Jesus as a starting
point, the place where it happened:
“Bethlehem in Judaea” (v. 1).
The text of the prophet Micah cited in v. 6, in the center of this text,
offers the christological key: Bethlehem is the city in which, according to the
prophets, the Messiah had to be born.
Jesus, therefore, is presented in his messianic dignity, descendent of
the king David, originally from Bethlehem.
Nevertheless, the narration is structured on the base of a double
reaction in front of the revelation of the messianic mission of Jesus: the
persevering and valiant search of the Magi, arrived from the Orient, and the
hostile suspicion of King Herod and of all of the city of Jerusalem (v.
3). The destiny of the new Davidic
Messiah is presented paradoxically from the beginning, through the opposed
attitudes of both groups: the Magi, with the revelation of the star, arrive at
the place of the birth of the Messiah after having consulted the Scriptures;
Herod and the chief priests and scribes of Jerusalem, in spite of the testimony
of the Scriptures, don’t come to recognize the Messianic reality of Jesus. The alarm of the Jews, the reunion of an
assembly of experts of the Scriptures, the inquisition of that which the Magi
have submitted, makes one think of the process that Jesus was submitted to in
Jerusalem before being crucified, when he will be definitively rejected and
condemned by the authorities of Israel (Mt. 26, 63) and by the civil
authorities as “king of the Jews” (Mt. 27, 37). Matthew has projected on the newborn Messiah of Bethlehem the
drama that he will suffer as the persecuted Messiah at the end of his life. The text represents a small parable of the
paradoxical movement that will mark the history of Jesus of Nazareth, rejected
by those close to him and accepted by those that are far
(Mt. 8, 10-11: “In truth I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found faith as great at this”; Mt. 21, 42-43: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone…the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit”). At the same time, the experience of the Church of Matthew is reflected, open to a mission even unto the pagans (Mt. 28, 19: “Go and make disciples of all nations…”).
The text here is made up with symbolic rich elements of the Bible and of the Judeo-Hellenistic ambiance that accompanied the narration’s of the birth of great persons: the rising of a star or revealing light, the hostile reaction of certain factions, the liberation of the person, etc. The “Magi” (Greek: magoi) in the text are persons of peoples that are found a long ways off, dedicated to the study of astrology. Matthew probably thinks of the prophet Balaam of the book of Numbers, a foreign personality called by King Balak to curse Israel in the desert, which in place of a curse, blesses the people of God instead, announcing the rising of a star: “I see him – but no in the present. I perceive him – but not close at hand: a star is emerging from Jacob, a scepter is rising from Israel” (Nb. 24, 17). This messianic symbol of the Old Testament can explain the expression of the Magi in the Gospel of Matthew: “We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage” (Mt. 2,2). Together with this messianic image there are two other texts of the Old Testament that serve as a background to this Gospel text: the ideal king of the future that receives gifts of kings of far off countries (Ps. 72, 10.15); and the city of Jerusalem, invaded with camels and dromedaries, carrying gold and incense, to give glory to the Lord (Is. 60, 6). The gifts that the Magi, arriving from the Orient offer to the child, born in the messianic city of Bethlehem, are themselves for the “Son of David”. In this homage is expressed, in agreement with the ancient prophecies, the messianic recognition of far off peoples. The Magi, incarnation of non-Jewish peoples and of the world of culture and wisdom that searches with a sincere heart, experience “an immense joy” (Mt. 2, 10). It is the messianic joy that is diffused among the pagans that enter to form part of the Church of Christ.
The biblical lesson that we proclaim today is a message of openness, of hope and of passionate love for the present values in all cultures and religions of humanity. It is an invitation to dialogue, to witness, to insertion in the world, and to share in the obligation for ecumenism. It is a poem to universality and fraternity among peoples and cultures, not only for philanthropic motives, but because God loves all men and women, he has revealed himself to all peoples and redeems them in the blood of his Son. It is also an invitation to discover the “signs” of God in life, indispensable for nourishing faith and experiencing joy and the light of who has discovered truth and salvation in Christ.