EPIPHANY 2013 C
In an allegory a person or a thing is used to represent an abstract or spiritual meaning. The star in the story of the Wise Men is clearly an allegorical star. No real star would or could behave as the star described by Matthew, moving here and there and leading these men on a journey.
The first readers of Matthew’s Gospel weren’t reading it as a factual story with scientific verification but nevertheless they saw that it contained profound truths. They saw that it contained their own story and that it was a message of life and hope for the world.
Many of Matthew’s readers would have been Gentiles; non-Jews who had accepted that Christ is at one and the same time the Jewish Messiah and the Saviour of the World. They would therefore have easily identified themselves with the Three Wise Men.
Like the magi, every human person is born with a call that must be answered, a vision to follow and a goal to be achieved. In order to respond to that call, each of us must be willing to journey forth from home and family and make our way into an unknown future. Inevitably, that journey will entail risk. There will be obstacles along the way, detours and even dead ends that will mean we have to start over.
There will also be other people, each pursuing their journey, some of whom will prove to be helpful while others may deter or delay our progress, either openly or through deceit. Notice the role that Herod played in today’s Gospel narrative. He feigned a sincerity of spirit before the magi. On our journeys, we too will encounter Herods. Their deceptions may fool us; their manipulations may even cause us to lose our way.
Along with the Herods, however, there will be helpers who support our journey. Just as the magi were guided by the shining light of a star and even by dreams, so will our paths be lit and our journeys made easier by the gifts God sends our way. As we respond to God’s call, as we try to realize our visions and accomplish our goals, we will not be traveling alone. Others with similar calls and visions and goals will be following a journey like ours.
The magi are wise. They are the ones who are sincere searchers for the truth. They make great efforts. They don’t give up easily. They have learned all that they can from openness to nature and led only vaguely by a star they stick with their journey. The star alone is not an adequate guide; they must consult with those who know the Jewish Scriptures. Finally, when their journey ends in the simple villageof Bethlehem, the magi are not distressed to find Jesus among the poor and nameless rather than among kings and priests.They experience an intense joy, and put their gifts at his service.
The Maji are sensitive to the fragile signals of transcendence present in their lives. They recognize God’s grace however it comes. The magi stand in contradiction to Herod and his court. Herod had all the possibility of discovering the Christ child and welcoming this Prince of Peace. In fact it was through Herod the magi were able to continue on their journey. But Herod was not a disinterested seeker. He was not coming with an attitude of worship and awe, but one of destruction and fear. He wanted to control and determine his own future.
Often we may be like Herod and assume a position of power and control not obedience and service. We may so much want to determine our own future that we approach the search with a determination to destroy the guidance of God if we discover if it could threaten our determined path; our wealth, our way of thinking, our own decisions about life.
It can be assumed that, as with the shepherds before them, the Magi went back by “another way”, not merely geographically. They return to a new and different way of relating with life. Their hearts and spirits are comforted and their minds still turning these things over in wonder, not a bad way to journey. The Magi teach us is that human finding will always lead to some kind of dissatisfaction and so the seeking re-begins. I wonder when they began whether they were searching for a wisdom that would satisfy them and they would never have to leave home again or never have to ponder stars?
The Magi-story is the revelation that mere human wisdom searches for more than it can understand. We all might like to arrive at our own logical, reasonable concept of God. We would love to say that we have found God. And even more, if we could determine who and what God is, if we could capture God, then we would seem to control God.
In prostrating themselves, the Magi admit their former human arrogance and surrender to the mystery of a God revealed in vulnerability.
There are many whose deep thinking stumbles over the manger and all it means. They are not able to figure it all out and so they go back by the same way they came. They are not able to stand before the mystery of life in awe, but need to grasp, to know, to control, to take.
The Epiphany is a grand revelation that God will not be found to satisfy human thinking. This seeking of us by God encourages us to live with the dissatisfactions of our hearts. We are invited to lay down our intellects, as precious gold, which they are.
We tend to rely on logic when setting a direction for our lives, for example, when choosing a spouse, a profession, a neighborhood, or a school. From the magi we learn that life-directing choices must also be guided by unexpected grace-filled moments of wisdom that come from sudden light, the counsel of others, inspiration, insight, dreams.
Let us not block the star.. the light that Christ gives us to find him.
“That we might find him , he is finite.
That we might search for him once we have found him, he is infinite.”