Homily for the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord 2014
Our former spiritual director in the seminary in Melbourne is a wise Jesuit priest and a man of few words. Yet no matter how few or how little he had to say, there is always something to reflect on from his short and simple catchphrases. One example of this is his comment about being wise. He said: ‘Some people are wise, some are otherwise.’
This catchphrase came back to me as I reflect on the Feast that we are celebrating today- the Epiphany of the Lord or the manifestation of the Lord to all nations. This epiphany is being represented today in our gospel by the wise men from the East who came to see the child Jesus, paid homage to him and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Some traditions would even call these wise men- three kings, and they had names too: Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar. But it doesn’t really matter if they are kings or not. What matters is that they showed us the truth that God manifests himself to everyone. This episode of the wise men visiting the child Jesus present a good news for us- that God has come for all of us, no matter where we come from, what language do we speak, what culture do we belong to, or where we are in the social ladder. How amazing really is our God! He is such a loving God revealed by Christ. that St Paul could proudly preach that in Christ, ‘there is no longer Greek or Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian and Scythian, slave and free, but Christ is [for] all and in all.’ (Col 3:11). St Paul would also say that in Christ Jesus, even gentiles ‘now share the same inheritance, that they are parts of the same body and the same promise has been made to them.’ (Eph 3:5-6).
To realize that God has come for each one of us, not just for a selected few, or for a particular group of people is really a moment of liberation- a good news for us. But this is not enough for us just to know this, just as it is not enough for us to say we believe in God and without doing anything to live what we believed. In here we need to distinguish between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is knowing that tomato is a fruit. Wisdom tells us that we can’t put tomatoes in our fruit salad. ‘It is one thing to say that we have our answers in the person and teaching of Jesus’, says Francis Moloney, A Scripture scholar, ‘It is another to live lives which shows such answers to be true.’ This means that we need to open our hearts to the manifestations of God in our lives. We need to meet God halfway. And to realize this, we need wisdom to embody in our lives what we know about God. We need the wisdom like that of the wise men to help us live our lives in cooperation with God, with His will and with his plan for us.
What can we learn from the wisdom of the wise men then?
First, they looked up to a certain star, studied it, and upon realizing it is a sign to a divine, they followed it. Traditions would say these men were astrologers- they knew how to interpret some signs from heaven. They have understood that there is something deeper that the star was pointing to. They have realized it is a sign that could lead them to the new-born king of the Jews- the God-made-man. With this knowledge they went off to search for God. Through the star, they were able to find the place where Jesus was born.
In our lives too, we have stars that we looked up to and follow. We have sports heroes, model philanthropists, idol celebrities, particular historical figures, community leaders, parents, siblings, neighbours, and whoever we follow. Like the wise men, we need to discern if these stars are leading us to Christ, to God. If our ‘stars’ though shining brightly, are not leading us anywhere closer to Christ, then we need to look for another one. We need to go through another way. We need to remember also that ‘stars’ couldn’t save us. But with wisdom, we can learn from them a way to encounter Christ, our saviour, they can point to us the way to salvation.
Second, the wise men, wise though they were, didn’t hesitate to ask questions from the people who knew more of the Tradition. ‘Where is the infant king of the Jews?’, they asked. Presumably, they would have inquired this from the scribes and Pharisees- those who are knowledgeable of the scriptures, those who knew more of the prophecies about the coming Messiah.
What does it say to us? Intellectuals they may be, the wise men humbled themselves by acknowledging that they didn’t know everything. In the real sense of the word, a wise person is not one who knows everything, or pretends to know so much, but someone who knows where to search for things, whom to go and ask for, and knows how to keep silent if he/she has nothing to say.
The gospel tell us that the wise men came from the East, so they must have very little or even no knowledge about the tradition of Israel. They acknowledged this limitation by going to the source and by asking from those who know more about the tradition. This is a call for us to acknowledge and humble ourselves that we can’t just rely on what we know without going back to the community where the tradition is being kept, cherished and sustained. As a Christian then, we are to realize that we are only half-baked Christian if we claim to be of Christ yet we distanced ourselves from Christian tradition. In other words, we are missing the plot if we say ‘I believe in Christ and I don’t need to go to Church- the guardian and the keeper of the Tradition. Thus, we need to humble ourselves and go back to our community, to our Christian tradition, to learn more, to understand deeper the meaning of who we are as a Christian and as a follower of Christ.
Third, the wise men opened their treasures as a gift to the Holy Child. They offered him gold, frankincense and myrrh. These are special gifts, but they didn’t hold them back for themselves. They gave it all to the child Jesus. This could teach us to be grateful to God for all the blessings he has poured on us. This invites us to give back to God that which is due for Him.
Fourth, the wise men went back to their own country by a different way. This could mean conversion. This is best put by a Christian writer (Philip Yancey) when he said: ‘No one who encounters Jesus remains the same.’ We have heard in the gospel Herod met them privately and told them to come back to him once they found the child. As a King, he could do anything he wanted and that includes having these wise men killed if they wouldn’t follow his order. Yet, wise as they were, they preferred to listen what God had to say (being warned in a dream not to go back to Herod) over what Herod had told them to do. It’s a daring move but in their wisdom, they couldn’t do otherwise.
Today, there are many Christians especially in the middle east deciding to go by a different way by standing up for Christ, and for the Church, rather than listening to the threats of some radical groups in the country they’re in. Like the wise men, they dared to go against the current. Many of them have been martyred. Let us pray for them as well as let us imitate their way of witnessing the Christian faith even if brings out a threat for their lives and livelihoods.
So as we continue reflecting on this feast of the epiphany of the Lord to all nations, I leave you with a couple of questions:
‘If we were with the wise men looking for Jesus, what gift are we bringing for him?’
‘Now that we have encountered Christ by baptism and through the Eucharist, what impact does he have in our lives?’