CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 17 August 2019

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Epiphany - Shining star light for all peoples

The gospel narrative of the magi is grown into a lot of pleasant and touching stories, but must be kept accurately distinct from the Gospel story as not to compromise the message that the sacred text wants to communicate. For example, it was not said that there were three, and that they were magi, not kings. They must have belonged to the category of diviners, astrologers, well known and appreciated people in antiquity for their wisdom, ability to interpret dreams, predict the future and read the will of 
God through the ordinary or extraordinary events of life.
 
There is no wonder that Matthew has introduced the magi in his story. He has chosen them as a symbol of all the pagans that, before the Jews themselves, opened their eyes to the light of Christ.
 
It is also not likely that the magi saw a heavenly body directing them to Bethlehem since Bethlehem lies to the south of Jerusalem. All the celestial bodies move from east to west. The star referred to by Matthew is not, then, to be found in heaven, but in the Bible.
 
The evangelist writes for readers who are familiar with the Old Testament. In the book of Numbers 22–24 there was a curious story of Balaam and his talking donkey. Balaam was a soothsayer, a magus of the East, just like the ones mentioned in the Gospel today. One day he unwittingly makes a prophecy: “I see it but it is not an event that will happen shortly; I behold him but not near. A star shall come forth from Jacob, a king, born of Israel, rises… One of Jacob will dominate over his enemies” (Numbers 24:17-19). Since then, the Israelites began to anxiously wait for the rising of this star that was none other than the Messiah himself.
 
Presenting to us the wise men of the East who see the star, the evangelist wants to tell his readers: from the descendant of Jacob the expected deliverer has rosen. It is Jesus. He is the star.
 
The first reading today speaks to us of “a troop of camels and dromedaries” that come from the East (Isaiah 60:6). The magi prostrated themselves in worship (v.11). Their gesture recalls the court’s ceremony—the prostration and kissing of the feet of the king—or kissing the ground before the image of the deity. The pagans have therefore recognised as their king and their God, the child of Bethlehem and offered him their gifts.
 
They have become the symbol of people around the world who are led by the light of Christ. They are the image of the Church, made up of people of every race, tribe, language and nation. Entering the Church does not mean giving up one’s identity. Every person and every people maintain their cultural characteristics. With these, they enrich the universal Church. Nobody is so rich as not to need anything and not so poor as not having anything to offer.
 
● Father Fernando Armellini SCJ
Claretian Publications
bibleclaret.org
Translated by Father John Ledesma SDB
Abridged by Father Thomas Thennedy CMF