Feast of Epiphany
Sunday 2nd January 2022
The Gospel Paraphrased
There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.
This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased
Look! When Jesus had been born in Bethlehem in Judea in the reign of King Herod, three wise men from the east appeared in Jerusalem. ‘Where is the new born King of the Jews?’ they asked. ‘We saw his star rising in the east and have come to give him homage.’ When Herod heard this he was agitated and then all Jerusalem was too. He called together all the leading priests and religious experts and demanded, ‘Where is the Messiah to be born?’ They said, ‘In Bethlehem, in Judea, because it was written in the prophets: “And you Bethlehem, in Judea, you are by no means the least amongst the princes of Judea, for out of you will come the Leader who will shepherd my people Israel.”’
Then Herod called the wise men in privately and asked them particularly for the time when the star appeared. Then he sent them on to Bethlehem saying, ‘Go, search carefully for the child and when you have found him, let me know. Then I’ll come and pay him homage.’ After hearing this, they went and, look, the star they had seen in the east led them on and stood over the place where the child was. When they saw the star they were overcome with joy. Coming into the house, they saw the child with Mary, his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts: gold frankincense and myrrh.
God warned them in a dream not to go back to Herod so they returned to their home country by a different route.
The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.
This Sunday's Psalm
Give judgement to the king, O God,
and your justice to his son,
so he can give righteousness to your people,
and judge justly for the poor.
Righteousness will flourish in his days,
and an abundance of peace till the moon exists no more.
He will reign from sea to sea,
across the widest expanse of the lands.
The kings of Tarshish and the coastlands
will pay homage to him.
The kings of Sheba and Seba
will offer him gifts.
Yes, before him all kings will bow down in homage,
all nations will serve him.
For he will save the needy when they cry out,
the poor also and those who have no help.
He will be a refuge for the poor and needy.
He will give life to those in need.
Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.
This Sunday's Prayer
Loving God, our hearts are filled with a myriad of desires as stars fill the sky. Send us your Spirit that we may follow the desires that truly lead to worship of Jesus for in him is found the fullness of life and love. We ask this in his name confident that you will hear us.
The Commentaries Summarised
As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.
This Sunday's Commentary
In the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ Jewish lineage was presented, and then his identity was ‘Saviour’ described with references to the Scriptures. But, in this most Jewish of the four Gospels, his birth is revealed through the visit of the Gentile Magi. At the conclusion of this Gospel, Jesus’ final command to his disciples is to go out into the world, to the gentiles and bring them into the life of God.
‘Magi’ is an elusive term best left untranslated. It contains elements of priest, astrologer, wise man, king. The English word, magician, obviously comes from this term. Most likely these figures were members of a Persian educated class of priest/astrologers. They believed that extraordinary astronomical signs could accompany the birth of a significant ruler. Their journey to visit this new king would have been arduous. Arriving in Jerusalem, they went to the most obvious place for a king: the palace and the reigning king. But they had entered into the dangerous court of King Herod. This half Jewish leader, acutely conscious of his suspect claims to the kingship, was a violent and suspicious man. He had already murdered his wife and two sons when he thought his rule was threatened. The arrival of these strange and confident figures would have caused him alarm. And the people of Jerusalem, in turn, would have feared another bloodletting in their midst.
The quotation that the scribes and chief priests offer in response to the Magi’s questions is a combination from the prophet Micah and the book of Samuel. Bethlehem is the place where the Messiah is to be born. Herod has no intention of offering homage to this new king but, with clever questioning, makes sure he has sufficient information to deal with this new king if the Magi do not return with more exact information of where he can find him.
When the Magi finally encounter Jesus their response of homage is not merely respect or obeisance to a royal figure. Rather, is it the humble response in the presence of God. Their long and winding journey has culminated in someone beyond their greatest dreams or desires.
Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.
This Sunday's Exposition
As Christians, we often proclaim that belief in Jesus leads us into the fullness of life but, immersed as we are in all the demands of our own lives, we can sometimes wonder just what difference that faith makes. The example of the Magi can be a star guiding us to embrace our own destiny in the person of Jesus.
These Magi were members of an educated class. They used their study to understand both the phenomena of the skies and the meaning of religious scriptures. But their knowledge did not remain in the schoolroom. They allowed their hearts’ desires to be unleashed by the beauty of the star. But they did not remain struck in awe and beauty. They set out on a long, arduous, and possibly dangerous, journey to discover the cause of these signs. Wise as they were, they knew what they had walked into when they came into the court and the presence of Herod. But they did not allow brutal power and deviousness to frighten them. Even from evil they could bring wisdom, because their goal was the Saviour. And when they came into the presence of Jesus and his mother, they did not allow the poverty and humility of the situation to blind them to the truth about this King. All along the way, they had not allowed difficulties or their pre-conceived ideas to limit them and so when they came into the presence of this new-born child they were given the wisdom to fall down and give homage to God.
What about us – probably not as educated or as adventuresome or as wise or as wealthy as these Magi? What have they to tell us? Whatever happened to these men, they did not give up. Their journey would only end when they had found their goal and difficulties along the way were seen as challenges that brought wisdom with their resolution. We, too have our challenges – they may be as simple as getting out of bed and facing a new day or as great as facing grief and terror- but like the Magi, we can be open to the possibility of life in each situation. We too must know that our journey of life is leading us to discover in each and every situation the presence of God guiding us into the fullness of life.
Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.
This Sunday's Reflection
The Christmas story which occurs through chapter 2 of Matthew’s Gospel is not an easy read. Simply put, this narrative could be happening in Syria, in parts of Mexico or of Africa…or any other place in our world where evil and corruption has its way – which just about covers everywhere. Sweet and sentimental as the scenes on Christmas cards look, they do not depict the world into which Jesus was born. Jesus had come as Saviour and King of Peace but into a world in which evil still had reign. Jesus himself had to face the effects of that evil as did many who were associated with him. While the story of the innocent children of Bethlehem who are massacred as a result of Herod’s fear are not part of the reading for the Feast of the Epiphany, they too have their part to play, along with the Magi, in the revelation of the person of Jesus. The Magi, in a very real sense, represent the best that humanity has to offer in worship: prestige, education, wealth. The innocent children, victims of senseless violence, have nothing to offer except their own selves…and then they do not even have the choice. Their experience is the worst of innocent suffering, coming about simply because they were a similar age to Jesus. This is scandalous. And that’s the point. We are meant to be horrified, because the reality is horrible. Jesus did not baulk from it and with him we are to face the evil in our world.
So, on this feast, we have two models before us. On one hand, the fine Magi following in faith on a journey where, given only enough for each stage they were able to use whatever came their way to find the Christ: stars, politics, dreams and joy. On the other hand, the innocent babes, whose lives had just begun and had been cut short. At times in our lives we can find ourselves in the situation of either of these. Sometimes we can be active, responsive, taking a stand against the evil in our world. At other times, we can do nothing but experience suffering and pain. But our guiding star in either situation, is the presence of Jesus in our midst.
Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.
This Sunday's Visual Meditation
There are many extraordinary art works depicting the story of the Magi. Below is just a small selections
- This picture from the St Albans Psalter (click red text) is the first of four paintings of the Magi – all of which can be accessed through this site. Compare the faces of the Magi on the journey out and back. As they return, they all look older wiser – even the horses look more thoughtful. After the warning in the dream they must have wondered just what this child would be facing.
- These frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli in the Magi chapel of the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi in Florence are a wonderful celebration of Renaissance life. In what looks like a series of royal processions the three kings, each on a different wall, come with an array of people and animals, even camels, raptors and a tiger!. On the south wall is King Melchior (click red text) and his retinue.
- King Caspar (click red text) is on the west wall and what a genial fellow is old King Caspar (click red text). Note the. Extraordinary number of people – over a hundred – in the painting of KingBalthazar and his retinue (click red text) on the east wall. Notice how many prelates there are. On the left side of the fresco, there is a soldier carrying a monstrance. Note also the scene of the deer being hunted. The deer was a symbol of Christ in this period. The deer being hunted would bring to mind the attempt by Herod to hunt down the Christ child.
The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.
This Sunday's Mulling Meditation
The Magi came to the Christ Child bringing the best of who they were and all that they had to offer. In return, they received the insight and wisdom to worship God in human flesh. As you go through this week, mull on the many opportunities that are offered to you to offer yourself in worship to God or in service of those whom you met. Notice the times and situations where God seems to be hiding, waiting to be recognised and worshipped.
In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.
This Sunday's Mirror Meditation
Rest in the love of your God
The Magi came to Jesus by using the best of the many gifts and talents they had received: education, wealth, reason, curiosity, courage, resourcefulness. Only after using all these gifts did they recognise come to worship God in human flesh.
Consider the gifts and talents with which God has blessed you. As you rest in God’s love, ponder on what these gifts tell you about God’s calling to you. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how to use these gifts so that you can grow to maturity and worship God in your ordinary life.
Rest in the love of your God.
Suggestions for the Programme
The elements of the programme can be used in any way that helps your prayer. The suggestions below are fairly simple ways of using this programme.
Become conscious of your God
Hymn or poem
Reading of Gospel text
Mulling over a reflection
Become conscious of your God
Reading of Gospel text and reflection
The programme can also be used for Staff Prayer. How you may put together such a prayer would be influenced largely by the size and dynamics of your staff. For example, a smaller staff group might be able to use discussion of a movie as a way of exploring the meaning of a Gospel.
A painting illustrating the Gospel could be displayed on an interactive board
Reading of the Gospel
Invitation for share reflections
Reading of part of the Gospel
One or two of the mulling themes
Time for reflection
- Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
- We Three Kings of Orient Are by J.H. Hopkins
- Laudate Omnes Gentes by Jacques Berthier (Taize chant)
[The Journey of the Magi](by T. S. Eliot) describes the experience of the journey from the view of one of the Magi.
This Night a Child is Born (To David: “Your throne shall be established forever.” 2 Samuel 7:16)
To the plucker of strings
slayer of Goliath,
the whole of Palestine,
with fixed borders,
a chain of fortified cities.
The bridle taken out
of the Philistine’s hands.
The Ark in Jerusalem.
would rule forever.
By a perpetual covenant
his seed would sit
upon the throne.
The gold of the nations
would flow to Zion.
Kings would kneel.
But the scribe’s indigo
ink was not dry
on the Acts of Solomon,
in the Chronicles of Israel,
when Jeroboam cried,
“To your Tents, O Israel,”
tearing up the kingdom,
scattering the pieces.
The priests still sang
over the ruins of Zion:
“By the word of the Lord
the heavens were made.
The Lord decides
the number of the stars,
calls each one by its name.
The word cannot fail;
it stands forever.”
The see of David
sits upon his throne,
a kingdom without fixed
borders. Kings kneel.
frankincense and myrrh.
His reign is forever.
Kilian Mc Donnell O.S.B. in Swift, Lord, You are not St. John’s University Press. 2003 © The Order of St Benedict Used with Kind Permission.
Immensity cloystered in thy deare wombe,
Now leaves his welbelov’d imprisonment,
There he hath made himselfe to his intent
Weake enough, now into our world to come;
But Oh, for thee, for him, hath th’Inne no roome?
Yet lay him in this stall, and from the Orient,
Starres, and wisemen will travell to prevent
Th’effect of Herods jealous generall doome.
Seest thou, my Soule, with thy faiths eyes, how he
Which fils all place, yet none hold him, doth lye?
Was not his pity towrds thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pittied by thee?
Kisse him, and with him into Egypt goe,
With his kinde mother, who partakes thy woe.