January 5, 2014 – Epiphany of the Lord

Is 60,1-6 ; Eph 3,2-3a.5-6 ; Mt 2,1-12

Holy Cross Monastery, Illah, Delta State, Nigeria





            The many parables that we have in the Gospel are obviously not historical narratives. They are stories made up by a teacher as a means to transmit an important teaching. For example, the parables of the Good Samaritan or of the Prodigal Son. It was a teaching tool widely used in antiquity, particularly in Jesus’ time. In the same manner, the Gospel writers often construct narratives in order to transmit a spiritual or theological teaching.  These narratives are “true”; but their truth resides in the message that they transmit and not in the details of the story.  This is true especially for the stories about Jesus’ childhood, which are very beautiful and rich with their great poetical and symbolic expressions.


            The message that we find in each one of the three readings of today’s Mass is that of the universality of salvation.  This is the message on which we must meditate, rather than bothering with all the details of the visit of the Magi and all the stories made up about them through the centuries.  There is, in our three readings, a constant progression in the revelation and a dynamic deepening of that revelation.  We must also be aware of the fact that this development and deepening of the revelation continues with our own reception of it.


            The beginning of the first reading was very solemn: “Rise up in splendour, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.” But the prophet Isaiah adds immediately that such a light that has risen upon Jerusalem was not for her alone: “Nations shall walk by your light and kings by your shining radiance”.  Jews – but not only Jews; in fact, believers of every faith in every time – wanted to possess God.  He was “their” God, and He must be theirs alone. Then the prophet Isaiah tells them that the light that will shine upon them, although it is their light, since it has come upon them, shall not be reserved for them alone. Others will come to that light.  Nations shall come, not to Israel, but to the light that has shone upon Israël.  Quite a difference!


            Then, the narrative that we have in today’s Gospel is an application of that prophecy.  As soon as Jesus was born, as soon as the light of the Incarnate Word has risen upon Israel, nations hurry to open to that light, even when Israel itself does not open to it. Nations come, bringing with them their own symbols and their own religious customs.


            Saint Paul, who is always a good theologian, transmits to us, is his letter to the Ephesians, the “mystery” that was hidden in past generations and that was revealed to him.  That mystery was that the Nations – that is, the Pagans, all those who were not Jews – were associated to the same heritage, to the same body, to the sharing in the same promise, in Christ Jesus, through the preaching of the Gospel.  


This teaching of saint Paul has been interpreted in various ways along the centuries. Two thousand years later, we always discover new aspects of that teaching.  There was a time when it was interpreted in an exclusive manner : “No salvation outside the Church… understood in the very limitative meaning of “outside the Catholic Church”.  That interpretation condemned to eternal perdition the great majority of men and women of all the times who did not receive the teaching of the Church. It was also understood in an “inclusive” manner: “All are called to receive the message of the Gospel and to become Christians in order to be saved”.  But, since Vatican II, the Church has gone further in its understanding of that mystery.  Christians do not have the “privilege” of being the only ones to be saved. They don’t have a privilege; they have a “mission”.  Their mission is to transmit Jesus’ message, that is, that all men and women are called to be saved.


            The symbolic and poetic image of the Magi coming from the East and offering to Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh, represents the peoples of all the cultures, of all the faiths praising God trough the rituals and the symbols of their religious traditions.  We must certainly witness to the Revelation that we have received through the Gospel, without fear and without false modesty.  At the same time, we must develop a profound respect for all those who praise God through religious traditions other than ours.  Every human being, whether or not he was put in contact with the message of the Gospel, was in fact transformed by the Incarnation of the Word of God. When Jesus was born, God did not only become “one of us”; he assumed and transformed the whole of humanity. We must recognize that dignity in every human being. This is the message of today’s celebration.