Visit of the Kings from the East
1. In silence before God
The prayerful listening to the Word demands attention, it demands that your listening be oriented to God alone with all the availability of which your heart is capable. The quality of prayer depends very much on the attention that we give it. It has been said that attention is “the essence of prayer”. If your search for God is sincere, honest, correct, you will be able to find God. Today, on this Sunday in which the Lord is manifested as the light of humanity, we want to ask the Lord for “the passion to listen to him” wi
th the words of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity: “Oh Eternal Word, Word of my God, I want to spend my life listening to you, I want to be completely docile to learn everything from you. Then throughout every night, every voidance, every powerlessness, I always want to be fixed on you and remain under your great light” (Elevation to the Holy Trinity, November 21, 1904).2. The Word is enlightened
a) The context of the passage:
If in the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew the intention of the Evangelist is to show the identity of Jesus (Who Jesus is), in the second chapter the mystery of the person of Jesus is joined to some places which indicate the beginning of his earthly life.
The liturgical passage of this Sunday forms the beginning of Chapter 2 in Matthew’s Gospel (2, 1-29) which is followed by three other narratives: the flight to Egypt (2, 13-15); the massacre of the Innocents (2, 16-18) and the return from Egypt (2, 19-23).
For a better understanding of the message in “, 1-13, it is more profitable to subdivide the account of the Magi into two parts following the criterion of the change of places: Jerusalem (2, 1-6) and Bethlehem (2, 7-12). It is to be noted that in the centre of the story of the Magi we find a Biblical quotation which focuses the importance of Bethlehem in the time of the infancy of Jesus: “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, you are by no means the least among the leaders of Judah, for from you will come a leader who will shepherd my people, Israel” (Mt 2, 16).
The two cities constitute the background of this adventure of the Magi and united by two threads of the theme: the star (vv. 126.96.36.199) and the adoration of the Child (vv.2.11).b) Text:
After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, suddenly some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east asking, 'Where is the infant king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.' When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
They told him, 'At Bethlehem in Judaea, for this is what the prophet wrote: And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, you are by no means the least among the leaders of Judah, for from you will come a leader who will shepherd my people Israel.' Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared and sent them on to Bethlehem with the words, 'Go and find out all about the child, and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.' Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And suddenly the star they had seen rising went forward and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But they were given a warning in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.3. In silence before God
Place yourself before God with simplicity, submerged in a profound interior silence; leave aside every type of curiosity, of thought and imagination; open your heart to the force of the Word of God.4. For an attentive reading
a) The symbolism of the star:
The Magi, Oriental Astrologists, dedicated to astrological sciences and to predict destiny or the future, frequently questioned the celestial bodies. Now when they reached Jerusalem, they say that they “have seen his star arising”. The word “arising”, in Greek anatolê, means, without the article, the Orient or East (the cardinal point where the sun rises); but in the Greek text there is the article and this means the rising of a true and real celestial body. This is confirmed by a Biblical text: “A star is emerging from Jacob, a sceptre is rising from Israel” (Num 24, 17). The star becomes the figure of the new king who has just been born and guides them to the place where he is born and is found. It is interesting to note that this star is not visible in Jerusalem but appears once again to the Magi while they leave the city: the star is, truly, the more significant element in this account.
Above all, the Magi in their long journey have not followed the star but rather saw it emerging and immediately connected this to the birth of the Messiah. Besides the journey was not toward the unknown but the goal was Jerusalem, the city to which all peoples converge in pilgrimage according to the Prophet Isaiah.
The city on hearing this news of the Magi who had come to adore the Messiah is shaken and becomes agitated. The people of Jerusalem do not seem to be enthusiastic and are not concerned in the least to render homage to “the born king of the Jews” Actually, Herod has the project to kill him.
Nevertheless in Is 60, 1-6 the city of Jerusalem is called to “Arise, the glory of the Lord has risen on you” and now in Mt 2,2, we witness a reaction of rejection on the part of the king and of Jerusalem in regard to the Messiah born in Bethlehem. Such an attitude prefigures the beginning of the hostility which will lead Jesus to be condemned precisely in Jerusalem. Not withstanding that reaction which prevents the Magi to have access to salvation precisely in the city elected to be the instrument of communion of all peoples with God, the event of the birth of Jesus move things to Bethlehem. God who guides the events of history makes the Magi leave Jerusalem and they set out again on the journey and find the Messiah, in Bethlehem, the city which was the hometown of David. In this city David had received the divine investiture: not with oil but in the Holy Spirit (1, 18,20). The peoples, now go up to this city, represented by the Magi, to contemplate the Emmanuel, the God with us, and to have the experience of peace and faith.
b) The symbolism of the journey of the Magi:
i) A journey bristling with difficulties, but at the end it reaches success
The moving force of their itinerary is the appearance of a star, connected to the birth of a new king: “We have seen his star emerging”. Here, the star is only a sign, an indication which communicates to the Magi the initiative to set out on the journey. At the beginning perhaps they were impelled by curiosity, but, then this was transformed into the desire to seek and to discover. It is a fact that the indication of the star moved the persons and impelled them to seek in order to find a response: perhaps a profound desire? Who knows! The text shows that the Magi have a question in their heart, and do not fear to repeat it, even making themselves inopportune: “Where is the King of the Jews?”
They ask the question to King Herod and, indirectly, to the city of Jerusalem. The answer is given by experts, the high priests, the scribes: it is necessary to look for the new king in Bethlehem of Judah, because this was the prophecy of Isaiah: “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, you are by no means the least among the leaders of Judah, for from you will come a leader who will shepherd my people Israel” (Mt 2, 6). The prophetic text comes to solve the difficulties of the Magi: The Word of God becomes light for their journey.
With the strength of that information, taken from the prophecy of Isaiah, and comforted by the reappearance of the star, the Magi set out again on their journey having as goal, Bethlehem. The star which guides them stops on the house where they find Jesus. It is strange that those who lived in Bethlehem or in the surroundings of the house where Jesus is found did not see that sign. Besides, those who have the knowledge of the Scripture know the news of the birth of the new King of Israel, but do not move to go and find him. Rather, the question of the Magi, had instead, provoked in their hearts fear and disturbance. Definitively, those who were close to the event of the birth of Jesus are not aware of what has taken place, while those who were far away after having followed a difficult journey, at the end find what they were looking for. But, in reality, what do the eyes of the Magi see: a child with his mother inside a poor house. The star which had accompanied them was, in last instance, that simple and poor child, in whom they recognize the king of the Jews.
They knelt down before him and offered him symbolical gifts: the gold (because he is king); the incense (because behind the humanity of that child the divinity is present); the myrrh (that celestial being is an authentic man, destined to die).
ii) The journey of the Magi: a journey of faith:
It is not an error to think that the journey of the Magi was an authentic journey of faith, it was an itinerary of those who, though not belonging to the chosen people, found Christ. At the beginning of a journey there is always a sign which asks to be seen there where every man lives and commits himself. The Magi searched, studied the heavens, in the Bible, the see of the divinity, and from that had a sign: a star. But to begin a journey of faith it is not sufficient to search or study the signs of the presence of the divine. A sign has the function of arousing the desire which demands a certain time to carry it out, a path of search, of waiting. The expression with which Edith Stein describes her journey of faith is significant: “God is truth. The one who seeks truth, seeks God, consciously or not”.
A true desire provokes a question. In the meantime, the Magi find Jesus because in their heart they have strong questions. Such an experience of the encounter with Jesus is, truly, a provocation for pastoral ministry: there is the need of not privileging a catechesis made of certitudes or concerns about offering prefabricated responses, but rather of arousing in man of today significant questions on the crucial questions of humanity. This is what a Bishop from Central Italy suggests in a pastoral letter: “To present Christ and the Gospel in connection with the fundamental problems of human existence (life – death, sin – evil, justice – poverty, hope – disillusionment, charity – hatred, interpersonal family, social, international relationships ...), in order to avoid the confusion between the questions of humanity and our responses” (Lucio Maria Renna).
The response, as we are taught by the experience of the Magi, is found in the Bible. And it is not a question of only an intellectual knowledge or of knowing about the content of the Bible, like in the case of the scribes, but of approaching it guided by the desire, by the question. For the Magi that just indication of Sacred Scripture was enlightening to complete the last stage of their journey: Bethlehem. Besides, the Word of God allowed them to see in the humble signs of a house, of the Child with Mary, his mother, the King of the Jews, the expected one of Israel.
The Magi adore him and discover in Jesus the One whom they had been seeking for a long time. The reader, on the one side, is surprised by the disproportion which exists between the gestures and gifts of the Magi and the humble reality which is present before their eyes; but on the other side, it is certain that the Child whom the Magi adore, is precisely the Son of God, the expected Saviour of the world. And thus the itinerary becomes the itinerary of every reader who reads this significant story of the Magi: he who seeks, even though he is far away from God, can find him. Instead, those, who presume to know everything about God and believe that their salvation is assured, run the risk of depriving themselves of the encounter with him. In a catechesis held in Cologne on the occasion of the XXth World Youth Day, the Archbishop Bruno Forte expressed himself as follows: “The Magi represent all those who seek truth, ready to live their existence as an exodus, on the way toward the encounter with the light which comes from on high”.
Besides, the experience of the Magi teaches us that in every culture, in every man there are deep expectations which demand to be fulfilled. From here comes the responsibility of reading the signs of God present in the history of men.
5. To meditate
- After the reading of this passage of the Gospel am I ready to relive the journey of the Magi?
- What difficulties do you find in the profound knowledge of Jesus Christ? How can you overcome them?
- In your seeking for truth do you know how to trust, to set out on the way and to listen to God?
- In the light of the Word, what can you change in your life?
6. Psalm 72, 1-11
It is a royal Psalm, composed to celebrate the king on the day when he ascends to the throne. The primitive Christian community had no doubt in seeing in this image the person of the Messiah.
God, endow the king with your own fair judgement,
the son of the king with your own saving justice,
that he may rule your people with justice,
and your poor with fair judgement.
Mountains and hills,
bring peace to the people! With justice
he will judge the poor of the people,
he will save the children of the needy and crush their oppressors.
In the sight of the sun and the moon he will endure,
age after age.
He will come down like rain on mown grass,
like showers moistening the land.
In his days uprightness shall flourish,
and peace in plenty till the moon is no more.
His empire shall stretch from sea to sea,
from the river to the limits of the earth.
The Beast will cower before him,
his enemies lick the dust;
the kings of Tarshish and the islands will pay him tribute.
The kings of Sheba and Saba will offer gifts;
all kings will do him homage,
all nations become his servants.
We also give you glory,
Holy Father, whose name is sublime;
with the Son and the Holy Spirit
always glory forever and ever.
7. Final Prayer
We say it to you, Oh Father,
with all our heart
in harmony with the heart of your Son
and of the Virgin Mary.
We say it with the whole Church
and for the entire human race.
Grant us, that gathered together in love,
after the “yes” in the hour of the cross
we may be able in a unanimous voice,
in a powerful choir,
in voiceless splendour,
sing this eternally
in the sanctuary of Heaven.
(Anna Maria Canopi)