8th January 2017
Abraham, the patriarch of the Jews, seems to have had an epiphany, that is, a revelation of something about God, of His relationship with Abraham’s descendants: they will be blest and all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through them (Gen 12:1-3). It was the prophets who regularly tried to re-awaken this epiphany, revealing as accurately as they could what God wants for His creatures. At the time of our first reading, the Jews are probably just back in Jerusalem after suffering exile in Babylon and looking at the dilapidated city and Temple, they need a ‘bright star’ to lift their spirits; so we read from the prophet’s poem encouraging them to realise what can be – to see the work of God in their surroundings – which he interprets as best as he can, speaking of the wealth of nations coming to them as gifts from around the world, from Midian, Ephah and Sheba. The responsorial psalm (72) is appropriate to this idea as well.
What we think we know of God is always inadequate – the revelation (epiphany) is always in need of improvement and correction. So it is that many of the Jews in the first few decades after Christ could not accept His attitude to sinners and non-Jews; and even some of those who became Christians thought that non-Jews would need to accept the rules of Judaism in order to become Christians. But Paul had seen that the will of God was different, mysteriously extending God’s love and forgiveness to all who would have it; this was the distinctive revelation of Christ; Paul had the grace of receiving this epiphany of something more about the purpose of God for the world. Paul wrote (Ephesians 3:2-6) that pagans have the same privilege, and even invents a new word to try to express this mystery, namely, they are (συνσωμα) ‘part of the same body with’ the Jews in Christ. And this welcome message for us who are also part of the body of Christ today.
The gospel is the story of the magi, the wise men from the east, following their star to find Jesus; it is about this that we chiefly use the word Epiphany. The magi, like us, have to find their way towards the mystery of God’s great closeness to us humans through Jesus who is both human and Divine. And we, like the wise men, will have to learn from others, others who know something of the Scriptures. There are many celebrities and famous people we may be tempted to try to emulate, but we must find the right star for us; we must be wary of those with unsuitable motives; we must have our dream and stay close to that Jesus who is our ruler and gentle inspiration. And as we move towards this perfect example of what it is to be human, we must bring our gifts and talents – we all have something to give. So the gospel story is about the revelation of God to us, about how we understand it and how we are to respond as best we can – a story of great depth, beauty and personal significance.