The Gospel this Sunday, Jan. 8 (Epiphany)
Matthew 2:1-12 New International Version (NIV)
2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: 6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’[b]” 7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
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The Gospel of the Epiphany (Three Kings in other Christian tradition), which only appeared in the Book of Matthew, is about the revelation of God, that he has become human in his son Jesus and that the creator has become the creature. It tells us of the story about the visit of the wise men (Magi) from the East to the Messiah, the gifts that they bring — gold, frankincense and myrrh — and how they were able to find baby Jesus, and how their faith proved strong in the face of temptation.
Moreover, the Epiphany is the fulfillment of God’s desire to be among us so we could share his love and grace. The feast is a clear template of humility where the master of the universe, God almighty, has decided to become a helpless baby in order to redeem us from our sins and made it possible for mankind to share God’s kingdom.
Just like the Gospel is silent about the names of the wise men, their actual number were not also recorded. However, since three gifts were mentioned it was presumed that only three wise men came and traditionally, in the western Christian tradition, they were identified as Caspar (Gaspar), Melchor and Balthazar. But what should be more significant for us believers is that the first visitors of baby Jesus were the shepherds and the wise men, not the rich and powerful as represented by Herod. In fact nobody wants Herod’s presence, not even God, thus instead of coming back to report, the Magi, already warned by God in a dream, went on a different route in going home; another instance where the faithful, poor and small are favored by God. Through out Jesus’ ministry, he made it clear that it is the just, poor, deprived and oppressed who would inherit God’s kingdom (Matt. 5:3-5).
There are many interpretations as to what the three gifts that the Magi brought to Jesus means. During ancient times, gold and frankincense are traditional gifts to honor a king or deity. It is a strong indication that the wise men recognized Jesus for who he is. According to biblical scholars gold, in this instance, symbolizes the Kingship of Jesus while frankincense represents his priestly duties. Myrrh, on the other hand, is a “prefiguring of Jesus’ death…” In a way, the gifts represent a symbolic synopsis of Jesus’ role and life among us.
It also showed how a strong faith could resist the temptations of richness and power as when the Magi decided to obey God by not returning to Herod and the possible rewards he could have given them. Here the wise men were clearly tempted and that is why Herod secretly talked with them (Matt. 2:8). The Magi, however, successfully resisted that temptation because of their recognition of God and faith in him.
So the real question now that needs an answer is how many of us are faithful enough to resist the temptation of richness and power, especially amidst the poverty and helpless that abounds? How many of us could follow the foot steps of the wise men?
May God’s blessings be with us always.