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The Manifestation Of Christ To Humanity

A Hebrew Catholic Perspective

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Matthew 2: 1 – 12

Introduction

Many of us still, instinctively, when we hear the Magi, think of magic. We find it strange for a small band of astrologers to give us an explanation of the meaning of Jesus’ birth. These men, whoever they were, however many in their group, bestow gifts on the Christ child, and rightly so. But St Matthew was inspired to include this account, to bring perhaps an even greater gift to the Church yet-to-be-born – the gift of understanding the importance to the world of the birth of Jesus.

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Reflections On Our Text   Matthew 2: 1 ― 12

Verses 1 and 2  

Our story begins when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in the Province of Judea during the days of Herod the Great.

•    Bethlehem is a small town about 8 kilometres (5 miles) from Jerusalem.

•    Judea (called the Land of Judah in the O.T.) was the name of the Roman Province.

•    Herod, a part Jew, was a puppet King under the Romans.   Around B C 40 he was given the title, King of the Jews, and with it, extended authority, which he used to torture and slaughter any who got in his way.

A short time after Jesus was born, a group of Magi arrived in Jerusalem.   The Magi were not sorcerers but astrologers from Persia.   As such they claimed to predict future events or interpret present events, by studying the stars and planets.  

In Christian tradition they became identified as “wise men” (sometimes even as 3 Kings). In our text the Magi were determined to find the young Jesus and ask around Jerusalem “Where is the new-born King of the Jews?”

Verse 3  

This sends a cold shrill up Herod’s spine and he (and many hangers-on) become profoundly disturbed. And not without reason since the question implies that the baby will in due time by right, become the King of the Jews.

The pathetic Herod feels threatened. His days are numbered. He has already murdered his favourite wife and 2 sons. He would use anyone or any deception to prolong his cruel and evil rule.

Verses 4 – 6   

Herod is shrewd enough to know that these learned and wealthy Persians would not be seeking anyone less than the Messiah himself. He therefore asks his advisers where the Messiah would be born. They all agree – “In Bethlehem of Judea”, and quote Scripture in support of their claim. The coming ruler is (literally) to be a shepherd, emphasising the Biblical understanding of leadership as one of guiding, protecting, providing.

Verses 7 and 8    

Next Herod calls the Magi to a secret meeting and seeks knowledge about their search. He does a deal with them. They have his approval to canvass Bethlehem but on finding the child, they must provide Herod with the details. The Magi, at least initially, believe his words, that he wants to pay homage to the child.

Verses 9 and 10 

Somehow, the combination of the magi’s science and local inquiries helped them locate where the child was.

Note that the text of this Gospel does not say the rising start led the Magi to Jerusalem, nor did it point to the house at Bethlehem.   We must not let modern media entertainment mislead us as we discern the true message of this magnificent little episode.

Verse 11  

On entering the house they found the child with Mary his mother.   They paid their respects, homage rather than worship, as we understand it. They offered him gifts such as gold, frankincense, and myrrh: the most expensive products in their home country.

The Son of God having been revealed first to Mary and Joseph, two humble and poor Jews, is now revealed to representatives of the learned and rich non-Jews, the Gentiles.

Verses 12 and 13  

The Magi have achieved the goal of their amazing expedition. As suddenly as they appear in the New Testament, they now disappear: fortunately having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod.

Conclusion

St Matthew is at pains to demonstrate God’s care for those who live beyond the accepted boundaries of religious practice. Those who follow even faint and imperfect signs can be led to discover Jesus Christ.

The experience of the Magi helped the infant Church to understand the meaning of Jesus’ birth, and therefore the role of the Church, as a beacon of light and hope.

In this account the Magi through their natural science discover by faith what Herod and the religious authorities of Judaism miss, despite their possession of “the Scriptures”.

We had better be careful not to make the same error. Christians are inclined to map out a course they expect others to follow, and give little latitude to God our Creator to provide his personalised path for chosen souls. The inner call to seek Jesus is always from God yet we seem bent on pressuring others, especially those close to us, to pursue the course we set them on.

We excuse ourselves, as we believe it is “for their good”. But this hampers our own spiritual maturity, and allows us to overlook the first essential – to demonstrate in our own lives that we have “put on Christ”.

The 6th of January, the “Twelfth day of Christmas” is one of the most ancient celebrations of Christians.

It is called, the Epiphany, or manifestation of Christ to all humanity. 

 

Matthew 2: 1 — 12

 Epiphany     Year A

New American Bible

 1          1 When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King
             Herod, 2 behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem,

2          saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his
            star 3 at its rising and have come to do him homage.”

3          When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all
            Jerusalem with him.

4           Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people,
            he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 4

5          They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been
            written through the prophet:

6          ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among
            the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to
            shepherd my people Israel.'”

7          Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them
            the time of the star’s appearance.

8          He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently
            for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too
            may go and do him homage.”

9          After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the
            star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it
            came and stopped over the place where the child was.

10        They were overjoyed at seeing the star,

11        5 and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his
            mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then
            they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold,
            frankincense, and myrrh.

12        And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they
           
departed for their country by another way.

 

1 [1-12] The future rejection of Jesus by Israel and his acceptance by the Gentiles are retrojected into this scene of the narrative.

2 [1] In the days of King Herod: Herod reigned from 37 to 4 B.C. Magi: originally a designation of the Persian priestly caste, the word became used of those who were regarded as having more than human knowledge. Matthew’s magi are astrologers.

3 [2] We saw his star: it was a common ancient belief that a new star appeared at the time of a ruler’s birth. Matthew also draws upon the Old Testament story of Balaam, who had prophesied that “A star shall advance from Jacob” ( Numbers 24:17), though there the star means not an astral phenomenon but the king himself.

4 [4] Herod’s consultation with the chief priests and scribes has some similarity to a Jewish legend about the child Moses in which the “sacred scribes” warn Pharaoh about the imminent birth of one who will deliver Israel from Egypt and the king makes plans to destroy him. Matthew 2:11: Cf Psalm 72:10, 15; Isaiah 60:6. These Old Testament texts led to the interpretation of the magi as kings.

5 [11] Psalm 72:10; Psalm 72:15; Isaiah 60:6; These Old Testament texts led to the interpretation of the magi as Kings.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible,
revised edition (c) 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian
Doctrine, Washington D.C. and are used by permission of the
copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American
Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in
writing from the copyright owner.

 

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