The Epiphany of the Lord (A)
The Magi’s journey of faith
1. Opening prayer
a) Placing the passage in its context:
This passage belongs to the first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, which constitute a kind of prologue to the whole work. Here we are presented with the historical origin of the Messiah as son of David, as well as his divine origin as Jesus Christ, God-with-us. Matthew immediately leads us into a very deep and engaging meditation, placing before us a precise choice through the persons he introduces in his story: we either recognise and welcome the Lord who is just born, or we remain indifferent even to wanting to eliminate him, kill him. This passage offers us the beautiful story of the journey of the Magi, who come from afar because they want to seek and welcome, love and adore the Lord Jesus. But their long journey and tireless search, the conversion of their heart are facts that speak of us, facts already written on the scroll of our own sacred story.
b) An aid to the reading of the passage:
The passage may be divided into two main parts, determined
by the locality where the scenes take place: the first part (2: 1-9a)
takes place in Jerusalem, whereas the second part is focussed around
Bethlehem (2: 9b-12).
c) The 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 2
asking, 'Where is the infant king of the Jews? We saw his star as it
rose and have come to do him homage.'
3. A moment of prayerful silence
I listen deeply to the silent voice of the Lord and let the breath of the Spirit come to me and infuse me. In this silence I seek the Lord and repeat in my heart: “Where are you, my God?”
4. A few questions
a) I take the first words that come from the mouths
of the Magi and make them my own: “Where is the infant king of the
Jews?” Do I really feel attracted to the place where the Lord is
because I desire to be with him? Am I ready to leave the dark and old
places of my habits, of my comfort, to undertake a journey of faith
in search of Jesus?
5. A key to the reading
I look for some key words, some basic themes, that may guide and help me better penetrate the meaning of this passage of the Gospel, so that my life may be enlightened and changed by this Word of the Lord.
* The journey: This passage seems to be shot through with the grand theme of a journey, an exodus, a going out. The Magi, these mysterious characters, get moving, go far away from their land and go seeking the king, the Lord. Matthew presents this fact by means of some verbs that proceed along development of the event: came, we have come, sent them, go, set out, went before them, going into, not to go back, returned. The physical journey of the Magi hides a much more important and meaningful journey, the journey of faith. This is the movement of the soul born from a desire to meet and know the Lord. At the same time it is God’s invitation, who calls and attracts us with his own power; it is he who gets us to stand up and sets us in motion, who offers us signs and does not cease to walk with us. Scripture gives us many important examples and these help us enter into this path of grace and blessings. To Abraham God said: “Leave your country, your family and your father’s house, for the land I will show you” (Gen 12: 1). Jacob too was a pilgrim of faith and conversion; in fact, of him is written: “Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran” (Gen 28: 10) and: “Moving on, Jacob went to the land of the sons of the East” (Gen 29: 1). Many years later, the Lord spoke to him and said: “Go back to the land of your forefathers and to your kindred; and I will be with you” (Gen 31: 3). Moses too was a man on a journey; God himself showed him the way, the exodus, in his heart, in his depths, and made of his whole life a long march of salvation for him and for his brothers and sisters: “So come, I send you to Pharaoh to bring the sons of Israel, my people, out of Egypt!” (Ex 3: 10). Also the new people of God, we the children of the promise and of the new covenant, are called to go out all the time and to set out on a journey in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus. The exodus never ceased; the liberation that comes from faith is still always active. Let us look at Jesus, at his apostles, at Paul: not one of them stands still, not one of them hides. All these witnesses speak to us today by their deeds and they repeat: “Blessed is he who finds in you his strength and one who decides in his heart to go on the holy journey” (Ps 83: 6).
* The star: This is a very important and central element in this passage because the star has the role of guiding the Magi to their destination, of enlightening their nights along the journey, of indicating precisely the place of the presence of the Lord, of giving great joy to their hearts. Throughout the Bible, stars appear as signs of blessing and glory, almost a personification of God, who does not abandon his people, and, at the same time, a personification of the people that does not forget its God and praises and blesses him (cfr. Ps 148: 3; Bar 3: 34). The word star appears for the first time in Scripture in Genesis 1: 16, when, on the fourth day, the story of creation tells us of the appearance in the heavens of the sun, the moon and stars, as signs and as light, to set order and give light. The Jewish term for “star” kokhab is very beautiful and full of meaning. In fact, the letters that make up the word reveal the immensity of the presence that these celestial elements bring with them. We find two letters caf, which signify “hand” and which enclose the letter waw, which means man, understood in his vital structure, in his backbone, which keeps him erect, which makes him rise towards heaven, towards contact with his God and Creator. Thus, within the stars there are two hands, caf and caf, that lovingly hold within them waw, man: these are the hands of God that never cease to hold us, if only we entrust ourselves to them. Then appears the letter bet, which means house. Thus the stars speak to us of our journey towards our house, of our constant migrating from and returning there, whence we have come, from the day of our creation and even from all eternity. Often God compares the descendants of Abraham to the stars in the heavens, almost as if each person is a star, born to give light in the night: “Look up to heaven and count the stars if you can” and then he adds: “Such will be your descendants” (Gen 15: 5). Jesus also is a star, the star that takes its rise from Jacob (Num 24: 17), that rises from on high, that is the radiant morning star, as the Apocalypse says (22: 16). In fact, in him has taken flesh the infinite love of God, which bends itself down towards us, his children, and opens the palms of his hands to gather and welcome us. Only such love can give our infinite weakness the capacity and courage, the perseverance and joy of accepting to leave, to go on the long and arduous journey of faith, which takes us to Bethlehem, to the place where God appears to us.
* The adoration: The act of adoration is as
old as humankind itself, because since the beginning, the relationship
with the divinity has been accompanied by this demand of love, of humility,
of self-offering. Before the greatness of God, we, little people, feel
and discover that we are nothing, a speck of dust, a drop from a bucket.
In the Old Testament, the act of adoration appears as an act of deep
love towards the Lord, an act that demands the involvement of the whole
person: the mind, the will to choose, love full of desire and a body
that bows and prostrates itself even to the ground. It is said in several
places that the act of adoration is accompanied by a prostration with
the face touching the ground; the face of man, his gaze, his breath
returns to the dust whence he has his origin and there he recognises
himself as creature of God, as a breath of God’s nostrils. “Come in,
let us bow, prostrate ourselves, and kneel in front of Yahweh our maker”
(Ps 94: 6): this is the invitation of Scripture to us every day, showing
us the way to walk so that we may again and again come to the truth
and so live fully.
6. A moment of prayer: Psalm 84
A hymn concerning the trust of man
on his journey to the house of God
Res. I have seen your star, Lord,
How lovely are your dwelling-places, Yahweh Sabaoth.
7. Closing prayer
Lord, my Father, I have really seen your star, I have
opened my eyes to your presence of love and salvation and I have received
the light of life. I have contemplated the night changed into light,
pain into joy and solitude into communion; yes, all this happened before
you, in your Word. You have led me through the desert; you have led
me to your house and opened the door for me to enter. There I saw you,
your Son Jesus, Saviour of my life; there I prayed and adored, I cried
and found your smile, I kept silence and learnt to speak. In your house,
merciful Father, I have found life once more!
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