Sep162014
The work of DignityUSA on September 16, 2014 could have been sponsored by you. Click here for more information.

JANUARY 6, 2013: EPIPHANY

Readings: 

Isaiah 60:1-6
Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6
Matthew 2:1-12

Our ancestors in the faith celebrated the feast of Epiphany long before they celebrated Christmas.

Originally it was a three part celebration, each segment having something to do with "discovering" Jesus. The first revolved around the magi, the second, Jesus' baptism, and the third, the wedding feast at Cana. In each instance, Jesus is revealed as being someone out of the ordinary.

Those who today put statues of the "three kings" in front of a Bethlehem stable crib set haven't read Matthew's narrative of the event. There's no stable in his infancy passages, no angels, no shepherds. We're to presume Bethlehem is Joseph and Mary's hometown. They didn't travel there from Nazareth because of a Roman census. And the magi didn't arrive within 12 days of his birth. According to Matthew's account, their encounter with Jesus could have happened when he was a couple of years old.

But more to the theological point, without knowing it, many of us through the years have bought into St. Bonaventure's theological principle of "potuit, decuit, ergo fecit." In the vernacular, "he could do it, it would make sense if he did it, therefore he did it." The "he" is God. I remember as a child hearing that kind of argument used to prove the Blessed Virgin Mary was the most physically beautiful woman who ever lived. Isn't God able to create such a woman? Doesn't it make sense that he'd give that exceptional beauty to his son's mother? Therefore Mary was the world's most beautiful woman.

One of the reasons the bible is so thick is that its writers never followed that type of theologizing. Our sacred authors' reasoning went, "He could do it, it would make sense if he did it, but he almost never does it that way." Nowhere is this more evident than in today's magi pericope.

It would certainly make sense that Jesus would be initially "discovered" by a group of holy, pious, bible-savvy Jews. But that's not the way Yahweh engineered Jesus' "coming out." Not only aren't the magi Jewish, they're practicing a type of pagan religion which, according to Exodus, should get them stoned the instant they cross into the Holy Land. They're astrologers: people who look to the stars and planets to determine God's will in their lives. Jews were absolutely forbidden (under the same pain of death) to engage in such endeavors. (I presume had ancient Jews been members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in 1940, Pinocchio's When You Wish Upon a Star would never have won that year's Best Song award.)

We also see that same pattern of unpredictable God-ordered events in our first two readings.

Though one of Third-Isaiah's prophetic goals is to get his fellow Jews to return to Israel after the Babylonian Exile, he's convinced that, even if they don't come back, non-Jews will still make Jerusalem a place of pilgrimage. "The wealth of nations shall be brought to you. Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of Yahweh."

In the same vein, the unknown author of the letter to the Ephesians reflects on one of earliest Christianity's most surprising events: "Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." No one could have predicted that a Jewish reform movement would eventually be the driving force behind a non-Jewish faith.

Maybe we Christians should make Al Jolson's famous line, "You ain't seen nothin yet!" a mantra for our faith, especially after hearing today's three readings.