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The Manifestation of Christ to Humanity

Epiphany    Year B

A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
www.hebrewcatholic.org.nz

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St. 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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Some Reflections on our text

Verses 1 and 2

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

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

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 asked around Jerusalem “Where is the new-born King of the Jews?”

Verse 3

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

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

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.'”

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

7      Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the
        time 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.”

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

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,

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 star 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

11     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.

On entering the house they found the child with Mary his mother. They paid their respect, 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.

Verse 12

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

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. It affirms universal salvation and remains one of the highpoints in the Christian calendar. May it encourage us to share and manifest our faith not by compulsion and emotional pressure but by open and honest living out Christ’s example and teaching. In fact we have no choice in the matter. If we claim to be Christian, we are required to manifest Christ to the world. Fortunately it is something within the reach of every member of Christ’s Body, the Church.

 

 Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature

(Mark 16: 15)

The real Jesus, is the real answer to the real needs of the world!

Let us remember God’s teaching, contained in His Word and in doing
so, remain close to Him. The following are only examples illustrating
how you can note the gems the Holy Spirit highlights for your on-going
reflection.

The Manifestation of Christ to Humanity

Epiphany     Year B           St. Matthew 2: 1 — 12

1     Among other things, the Messiah will be shepherd-like; guarding, protecting
       and providing.

2     The visiting astrologers give testimony of God’s drawing people to the Faith
       who are very distant yet very important to Him.


       Their gifts are symbolic, offering: —

gold — a loving heart
frankincense — an adoring spirit
myrrh — an obedient will

       Anyone, absolutely anyone, no matter how distant they may be in culture,
       learning or custom — despite all that might stain their past — are welcome
       to approach the Lord if they reflect these dispositions, and wish to make a
       new beginning.

3     The Magi were led to discover the Messiah by natural science, not the
       Sacred Scriptures. So often those who believe they “have the Scriptures”
       develop an arrogant attitude towards those whom they consider to be
       spiritually inferior. They are thus blind to their own errors. This is a danger
       for all God’s people at all times and is therefore to be consciously avoided.

 

Shalom!

Click here for a printable copy of these Reflections

 

 

Matthew 2: 1 — 12

Epiphany     Year B

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 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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