Epiphany of the Lord C
January 3, 2016
Reading I: Isaiah 60:1-6
This passage is from Third Isaiah. The first part (Is 60:1-3)
announces the return of the exiles in language taken over from
Second Isaiah (Is 40-55).
The second part (Is 60:4-6) foretells the eschatological pilgrimage of the Gentiles
to the restored city of Jerusalem. The first part is typological of the birth
of Christ; the second part, of the visit of the Magi.
Although Matthew (curiously, in view of his special interest in quoting Old Testament
prophecies) does not cite this passage, it has clearly influenced the Magi narrative,
as the reference to gold and frankincense in verse 6 shows.
Other features from
this passage, not noted by Matthew, were added by popular legend to the story
of the Magi, namely, the fact that the Magi were Gentiles, to say nothing of
the camels in Isaiah 60:6!
Responsorial Psalm: 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-12, 12-13
This psalm was
originally a coronation hymn, composed for kings of the Davidic
dynasty. Christian faith sees its fulfillment in Christ,
for it emphasizes the “pastoral” aspects of kingship,
such as the establishment of justice and compassion for the
poor. The psalm also brings out a feature absent from the
first readingthe figure of the messianic king.
We may suspect that this psalm, like the First Reading, also influenced the Matthean
narrative of the Magi. Once more we note the lack of any explicit quotation,
yet the psalm speaks of the pilgrims bringing gifts and falling down in homage
before the messianic king. Like Isaiah 60, the psalm has also contributed something
to the legend of the Magi, namely, their identification as kings. That they were three kings
was an inference from the three gifts specified by Matthew.
Christian faith sees Psalm 72 appropriately fulfilled in the coming of Christ
as the messianic king who brings justice and compassion for the poor (fourth
stanza), and in the universality of the acknowledgment accorded to the messianic
king (“all nations” in the third stanza, echoed in the refrain).
Reading II: Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6
This reading is
an explicit theological statement of the two themes adumbrated
in the first reading: the revelation or epiphany of God in
Christ (Eph 3:3) and the universality of messianic salvation
Many modern scholars regard Ephesians as the work, not of Paul himself, but of
a member of the Pauline school looking back, after the Apostle’s death, upon
his achievement in maintaining the unity of Jew and Gentile in the one Church.
This pericope gathers together early Christian traditions from
1. The primitive
kerygma had affirmed Jesus’ Davidic descent (Rom 1:3). According
to Jewish expectation, this qualified him for messiahship. As a Christological
affirmation, Jesus’ Davidic descent explains the importance attached in the
infancy narratives to his birth at Bethlehem.
2. A tradition common to Matthew and Luke dates the birth
of Jesus in the reign of Herod (d. 4 B.C.). This dating is
plausible and may well rest on fact.
3. There is the folk memory of Herod’s cruelty, and especially
the pathological fear of assassination and usurpation that
marked the closing years of his reign.
4. The star was regarded as a symbol of the Messiah. It originated
in Num 24:17 and was given a messianic interpretation as
early as the Testaments of the Twelve
Patriarchs. Matthew’s failure to quote Num 24:17 is again surprising.
5. The gifts presented to the Christ child were suggested
by our first reading and the Responsorial Psalm, although,
again, Matthew does not cite them.
6. There is the testimonium from Micah 5:2 cited in
Matthew 2:6. This passage was already interpreted messianically
in Judaism (see John 7:42 and the fact
that, unusually for Matthew, it is placed here on the lips of the scribes).
It seems likely, therefore, that it was used as a testimonium before
Matthew, though the structure of the pericope suggests that
it was first inserted into
the story by the evangelist.
7. Finally, although Matthew does not emphasize it, there
is the tradition of Gentiles coming
to see the messianic salvation, from the First Reading and Psalm 72.
factors contributed to the shaping of the Magi story. The
only certain historical facts behind the narrative
are the names Jesus, Joseph and Mary; the
dating of the birth; and perhaps the location of the birth at Bethlehem,
although that tradition may have originated from Micah 5:2 and Jewish expectation about
the Messiah, The significance of the story is almost entirely symbolical.
Reginald H. Fuller
Copyright © 2006
by The Order of St. Benedict, Inc., Collegeville,
Minnesota. All rights reserved. Used by
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Collegeville, Minnesota 56321
Preaching the Lectionary:
The Word of God for the Church Today
Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Liturgical Press. 1984 (Revised Edition), pp. 23-24, 398-400.
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