Feast of the Epiphany 2011

A couple of weeks ago, I had supper with a group of priests.  One of the retired priests is a proud liberal and our conversation shifted to the feast of the Epiphany.  He spoke about how it is his favorite feast because it shows how God is inclusive.  Salvation is not only for the Jewish people but for all people.  I looked at him and said that he is far more conservative than he could imagine.  He gave me a bewildered look and I reminded him that interpretation is quite traditional.  It is found in many of the early church fathers.  Several years ago, I read an article that challenged this traditional interpretation.  I don’t think he was pleased with my calling him a conservative or this interpretation but I think it deserves a hearing.

We have to ask ourselves some questions.  Who were the Magi hoping to find and whom did they believe they found?  I can do a single act for multiple reasons.  For instance, I can send flowers to a lady believing she would favor me.  I could also send flowers believing that she will be consoled by it for the death of her mother.  The Magi were looking for the king of the Jews but someone else already had that title.  King Herod understood that the Magi were looking for the Christ.  Given that, the Magi were directed toward the town where the prophecy said Christ would be born.  The Magi came and gave Jesus homage and Herod said he would do the same.  Probably the Magi did not plan to worship the child as God but to perform an act acknowledging that Jesus was worthy of honor based on him being the future king of Israel.

The story is supposed to be a form of irony that is tragic and comic.  We are to find the story amusing.  Poor fools, they came looking for a king and believed they found one.  They did honor to one they believed would be a king.  They returned home believing they acted appropriately.  Poor deceived Magi for we as believers know Jesus was never a king but someone much greater than a king. 

In Jewish literature, magi are not wise men but fools.  Not a single story presents them as wise.  We as believers know more than these outsiders.  The point of the story is that outsiders get it all wrong.  We can’t understand Jesus from a star or elsewhere.  We can’t understand Jesus if we compare him to other kings or look at his so called rule.

These men brought gifts to one they believed was a king.  We on the other hand believe Jesus is better than a king but God incarnate.  If these magi brought gifts so all the more should we give ourselves over.  The greatest gift we can offer is not gold, frankincense, or myrrh but our hearts.  As we celebrate this Eucharist, we lift up our hearts to the Lord.  Not only is the bread and wine transformed but so are we.  St. Augustine says we receive not only Christ on the paten but our very self.

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