A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

How to be a “show off”

One of the polarizing issues at the moment seems to be searching for the proper answer to the question of immigration.  In effect, how does one comfortably deal with “outsiders?”  They are considered such because they speak a strange language, dress differently, and come from various cultures.

On the feast of the Epiphany (Greek=”manifestation”) we celebrate the fact that Jesus “manifested” himself to outsiders.  Just who were these outsiders?  They were called Magi who came from the East.  Most likely they were astrologers who were able to read the heavens and interpret the star that led them to Bethlehem.  Possibly because they brought expensive gifts to Jesus (gold, frankincense, and myrrh) a tradition arose establishing them as kings.

The Magi were non-Jews, and yet Jesus manifested himself to them thus indicating that ALL people were included in the plan of salvation, not just the Jews who considered themselves to be God’s chosen people.  What we notice in the feast’s Gospel (Matthew 2:1-12) is that what this “manifestation” meant was a sense of “openness” to the outsider.  That is to say, that non-Jews were included in Jesus’ miracles and good works.  For example, the Centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5-13); the healing of the Canaanite woman’s daughter (Matthew 15:21-28); The Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7-30).

Another major character in the Epiphany account is King Herod.  A sly old fox who when he heard the Magi ask, “Where is the child who has been born the KING of the Jews?…”  (The Greek text uses the word BASILEUS, so there can be no mistake), he tried to bring the Magi into his plot to kill Jesus.  When the Magi were told in a dream to go home another way, Herod’s search for another possible potential threat ultimately resulted in the slaughter of the baby boys in Bethlehem.

Incidentally, the phrase attached to Jesus, namely “the king of the Jews,” shows up in another place, namely, the scene of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion.  What is interesting to note is that Pilate had an inscription written to be placed on Jesus’ cross: “Jesus of Nazareth king of the Jews.” [John 19:19-20] (We usually see the version that has INRI, the Latin acronym for ‘Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.’)  At birth and at death Jesus is presented as king.

Finally, we have the Magi doing homage to Jesus.  Most likely they prostrated themselves as they would to anyone of higher rank.  It can truly be said that Jesus “manifested” himself to the Gentiles (non-Jews) first here then via the miracles and good works.  That manifestation was actually an “openness” to be able to help the “outsiders” ( represented by the Magi).  Jesus was “manifesting”himself, or, rather, “showing off.”

It seems to me that the best lesson we can learn from the Epiphany Gospel is to be OPEN to the “outsider” whoever he or she may be.  Every time that we perform a good deed, not only are we showing an openness to help, but above all, manifesting Jesus to others.  All good deeds are epiphanies of Jesus from us to others.  Doing a good deed is an excellent way of showing off.


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