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Top Planning Resources for Sunday

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From Word to Eucharist

Do we bring the gift of ourselves to the table today? What a rich and overflowing table of gifts would we see if we did!

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Fr. Tony’s Homilies

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Over 50 questions each week from which to pick and choose.

Larry Broding
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INTROFIRSTPSALMSECONDGOSPELCATENA AUREA

While the visit of the magi, representing the nations of the world, is a sign that the salvation offered by the newborn King is for all times and peoples, theologians also saw the magi’s journey as a symbol of conversion and the journey of faith that each of us is traveling. Keep Reading…

SOURCE: LPi Connect

Sunday Commentary

Epiphany (B)

USCCB Resources

Sunday Readings Podcast and
Bulletin Insert

NCR’s Celebration Resources

Liturgical and pastoral resources from National Catholic Reporter’s Celebration 2018 archive. Each Saturday, NCR publishes reflections on the Sunday readings for the current year.

INTRO TO READINGS

Faith enough to seek more

by Sr. Mary M. McGlone — 2017

On this 12th day of Christmas, we can be challenged by the realization that one theme runs through the nativity stories: Jesus came to the lowly as one of their own. We wax romantic about the stable and swaddling clothes, easily ignoring the very real smell of the shepherds and their sheep and the shocking discomfort portrayed in the story of a homeless couple who had to beg for a safe place for their baby to be born.

Luke’s Christmas story can startle us into asking the question: What space and time would we give Christ in our crowded and busy lives? No matter how beautifully we sang “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” the truthful answer to Luke’s question usually falls short. Instead of opening our hearts and hearth and inviting Christ in, we have too often been like the folks who keep their doors shut in the Mexican celebration of Las Posadas; they don’t want to be mean, but it’s just not convenient to open their homes to Mary and Joseph when the poor couple arrives at an odd hour seeking a place to stay.

Matthew’s account of the Magi has much to say to First World people who want to celebrate the season of Christmas. Time and fertile imaginations have added exotic details to the saga of pagan astrologers who left their homeland to seek the newly born king of the Jews. When we get down to the bare facts, we’ll find that there are not only no camels, but we don’t know the names or even how many people were in the group that showed up in Jerusalem.

In spite of all the verses we sing in “We Three Kings,” the only words Matthew quotes from the Magi are, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?  We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” A short statement, indeed, but those 22 words call to mind ancient prophecies even as they offer hope and challenge to contemporary Christians.

Prophecies, always easier to interpret in hindsight, predicted  that the chosen people would become a light to the nations, that a descendant of David would establish an everlasting kingdom, that caravans of camels would come bearing gold and frankincense, that a star would come from Jacob. People of faith see these prophecies fulfilled in the birth and life of Jesus. These prophecies continue to offer the sort of hope we find in Psalm 72: the hope that justice and peace will reign, that the poor will find rescue and that all nations on earth will come to know God. The Magi tell us that if we don’t believe that the promises can be fulfilled, we will never notice that it has begun to happen.

The story of the Magi offers a particular witness to First World people today. The Savior came as a lowly one among the lowly and the Magi were wealthy foreigners who paid attention to the signs of their times. Their reading of the heavens focused on a star that signified something important was happening beyond their borders, and they were willing to displace themselves to discover what it might be. They had enough faith to go seeking more. At the same time, they were humble enough to ask for wisdom from a tradition that was not their own.

The Magi combined their traditions and Jewish wisdom which led to a deeper understanding about God’s activity on Earth. Reading their own tradition led them to seek a great king, their open-mindedness allowed them to discover more. When the star led them beyond the great city to a little town, away from wealth to the bosom of a simple family, they believed in their light more than in any preconceived notions about where to find God and greatness. As surprising it must have been to them and Mary, they did homage to a child and gave their treasure to him.

Their star had stopped leading them so an angel appeared in their dreams telling them to go home a different way. While they evaded Herod, the “different way” speaks of the change in them as much as geography. What 22 words might they have used to describe their experience upon return to their own? Did they explain that the journey enlarged their sense of “their own” — their own people, their own perspective, their own faith?

The Magi remind us that the God of the poor and lowly always invites those with abundance to seek more than we have yet found. They invite us to see new things. Whether by following stars or listening to the angels, the Magi remind us to seek God beyond our own preconceptions and expectations, and to always look for God among the poor and lowly.

©2017 National Catholic Reporter. All Rights Reserved. Sr. Mary McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Her 2020 Reflections can be read at National Catholic Reporter website.
LITURGICAL PLANNING

Planning: Epiphany (B)

by Lawrence Mick — 2017

The Epiphany feast once celebrated three different epiphanies of Jesus Christ: the visit of the Magi, which revealed him to the nations; the baptism in the Jordan, when the Father revealed him as God’s servant; and the wedding at Cana, where he performed the first of his miracles in John’s Gospel.

Thinking of these three epiphanies together reminds us that the focus of the Epiphany is about much more than a thrilling tale of Magi from the east and Herod’s jealousy. It is really a feast to celebrate the truth that Christ came to save the whole world. That might be an especially important reminder in this age when so many people treat immigrants and refugees as less than human. It is especially poignant when we realize that many of the world’s refugees today are huddled in the same part of the world where the Magi traversed.

The readings for Epiphany are the same each year, but there are now prayers in the Missal for Vigil Masses on Saturday afternoon or evening. The Ceremonial of Bishops offers several notes for celebrating this solemnity. It calls for “a suitable and increased display of lights,” so you might use extra candles this weekend. It also speaks of announcing the moveable feasts of the new liturgical year after the Gospel (maybe after the homily); a chant version of this announcement can be found in the Missal in Appendix 1; check the feast of Epiphany for a reference to the exact page. That setting and a different one from St. Meinrad Abbey can be found online by searching: “singing the announcement of Easter” which may be helpful for cantors and musicians for practice. The announcement is updated each year with the proper dates  and is available on www.usccb.org (search moveable feasts).

The Ceremonial of Bishops also suggests a special presentation of the gifts, no doubt linked to the gifts of the Magi; perhaps this would be a good time to invite people to bring up monetary or other gifts for refugees and immigrants. Finally, it notes that “the invitations, comments and homily will explain the full meaning of this day with its ‘three mysteries,’ that is, the adoration of the child by the Magi, the baptism of Christ, and the wedding at Cana” (#240).

These instructions are given to bishops, so they are not mandatory, but they are ways that planners may enhance the feast.

©2017 National Catholic Reporter. All Rights Reserved.
PRAYERS FOR MASS

Presider’s Introduction

by Joan DeMerchant — 2017

In this time of increased nationalism, erecting barriers, and labeling others as threats or enemies, this feast calls us to a powerful counter-message. Our field of vision and inclusion must be much larger than that of the status-quo. It must have been shocking to learn that God’s love extended not only to the Gentiles, but to the whole world. It may be equally shocking to realize that our boundaries are also too narrow. This feast is an epiphany about God’s will for Christ’s impact and ours on the world.

Penitential Act

by Joan DeMerchant — 2017
  • Lord Jesus, you were born to a Jewish family in Bethlehem of Judea: Lord, have mercy.
  • Christ Jesus, you came for the Jews, the Gentiles, and the whole world: Christ, have mercy.
  • Lord Jesus, you call us to open our hearts to all people: Lord, have mercy.

Prayer of the Faithful

by Joan DeMerchant — 2017

Presider: Let us pray today for our brothers and sisters across the entire world.

Minister: For the church: that it may be a clear sign of inclusion, showing the world that Christ is not only for us, but for all people … we pray,

  • For those who worship God under other names or theological understanding, especially in the Abrahamic tradition … we pray,
  • For loving and compassionate attitudes that open us to people of other races, nations, cultures or beliefs, despite the risks … we pray,
  • For the courage to confront those who practice exclusion because of fear, misunderstanding, a lack of knowledge, or political gain … we pray,
  • For immigrants and refugees who seek safety in foreign lands and long for humane and compassionate care … we pray,
  • For those within this community, in our neighborhoods and beyond, who are overlooked, underappreciated or in any kind of need; and for the ministers and ministries that serve their needs … we pray,

Presider: God of the universe, you sent your beloved Son to show your love to every nation on earth. Give us the same generous love toward others, especially those who are judged unworthy and those we do not understand. Grant us the courage to shine your light beyond barriers and boundaries. We ask this in the name of Jesus, the Light of the world. Amen.

©2017 National Catholic Reporter. All Rights Reserved. Presiders are encouraged to adapt these prayers to reflect Covid 19.
commentary
The Flight of the Prisoners, c. 1896-1902, Jewish Museum, New York, NY, depicts the Israelites fleeing Jerusalem and being exiled to Babylon in the sixth century B.C. Isaiah 60:1-13 was fulfilled during the return of the Jews from Babylon seventy years later.

"Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you." — Isaiah 60:1

PHOTO CONNECTION
The Flight of the Prisoners, c. 1896-1902, Jewish Museum, New York, NY, depicts the Israelites fleeing Jerusalem and being exiled to Babylon in the sixth century B.C. Isaiah 60:1-13 was fulfilled during the return of the Jews from Babylon seventy years later.

First Reading

Epiphany (B)

Is 60:1-6

Your light has come!

  • The showing forth of God’s glory is apparent in today’s passage from Isaiah.
  • All nations will walk by Jerusalem’s light, the glory of God within it.
  • The prophet announces to the people that even in the midst of darkness, they will forever be enlightened by the presence of God.
SOURCE: Our Sunday Visitor

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REFLECTIONS

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Fr. Clement Thibodeau

Gentiles will come to faith in the light of God’s people

FIRST READING — The Third Isaiah (Chapters 60-66) presents a message of hope and fulfillment to a people who have been restored to their homeland after a severe exile and a long period of trial. But the prophet looks beyond the physical and historical restoration to a fulfillment that will bring the messianic age to completion. Just as God fulfills promises to bring the people home from exile, so all the nations (Gentiles) will be brought home to the kingdom of God. Israel will become a light to those nations because of its faithfulness during suffering. The wealth of the nations to be poured into Zion does not refer to American aid to the Israel of today but to the Gentiles themselves who will enrich the numbers and the quality of the people of God in the community of the Church.

© 2017 Portland Diocese / Father Clement D. Thibodeau. Used with permission.

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Fr. Eamon Tobin

Hope for the returning exiles

FIRST READING —  This reading is from Third Isaiah (chs 56-66). Our post-Babylonia exile prophet seeks to offer hope to the returned exiles who are dealing with a demolished land and city. He seeks to encourage them as they embark on rebuilding the city of Jerusalem and the Temple.

“Rise up Jerusalem! Your Light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.”

The life of the returned exiles was extremely difficult.

“See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the people.”

God is still with his chosen people.

“Upon you the Lord shines and over you appears his glory.”

This light of God will draw nations to Jerusalem just as the Star drew the Magi to Bethlehem.

Caravans of camels shall cover you, dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; All from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and heralding the praises of the LORD. — Isa 60:6 (NAB)

©2020 Fr. Eamon Tobin. Used with permission.

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Sr. Mary McGlone

Rise up, awake to God’s glory

FIRST READING — This reading can only be fully appreciated by people who have felt displaced and unrecognized. Historically, this proclamation came at the time when the people of Israel were rebuilding the Temple; it functioned as a call to cultivate hope and to remember what it means to be God’s chosen people. Some commentators see it as referring to particular historical events while others think it is more directed to an undated future. The Christian use of this passage on the feast of the Epiphany gives it a particular context as prophecy related to Christ.

The prophet was addressing a people who had been in exile and who wondered if their call was still valid. That context prompts us to ask how it speaks to people in a country like the U.S. Even while we recognize the ancient Jews as our ancestors in the faith, we wonder what we have in common with that people. How are we to hear Isaiah’s exhortation in our day?

Isaiah called on the people to rise up, to awaken to God’s glory. He was telling them that their time of rejoicing was at hand. He announced that their coming vindication had nothing to do with them and what they deserved, but with what God wanted, what God would do in their midst. The prophet was calling them to see God’s action in their times. Although they felt they were in darkness, Isaiah told them that the darkness covered others, the nations, those who looked triumphant. According to Isaiah, the very light of God was available to them if they would only wake up to it.

If they had been able to perceive God’s presence in their history, Isaiah would not have needed to tell them to wake up to it. Isaiah was asking his people to recognize that God’s light was around them, even if they felt they were in darkness. He then went on to promise that when they realized that, when they let God’s glory shine through them, the nations would perceive it as well and come to join them in worship. Isaiah was so convinced of his message that he told them “your heart will throb” at the realization of what God does in your midst. That had to be a reflection of his own heart’s joy in knowing God’s plans.

Isaiah wants the people to understand that as they are called out of exile, God is responding to their deepest longings, the true needs of the human heart. Israel’s greatest gift has always been an awareness of who God is for them and what God desires for them. The people in darkness are the ones who are not in touch with their desire for God; they exist in the shadows of a shallow life. When Isaiah calls his people to rise up, he is really telling them to remember who they are and to recognize how God is active among them. Israel’s vocation is to let God’s light shine, to offer an alternative to the superficiality, to the darkness that surrounds them.

It would seem to us that as the people were being allowed back to their homeland and were being helped to rebuild the Temple, it should not have been so hard for them to see God’s work among them. When we read this selection in our day the challenge is all the greater for us because of our style of life. People like us who live in relative comfort and safety too easily mistake our security for what is really our heart’s desire. Our very abundance can numb our deeper longings. The reading invites us to wake up to what God offers, not a return from exile or a rebuilt temple, but the fullness of life.

©2017 National Catholic Reporter. All Rights Reserved. Sr. Mary McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. 2017 Reflections, 2020 Reflections can be read at National Catholic Reporter website.

TIPS FOR READERS

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Paul J. Schlachter

Points to consider

  • The prophet begins: Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem!  The words recall the heady days during Solomon’s reign, when Jerusalem was a city of renown and the whole Middle East paid its respects.  After the people returned from exile and their city was in fearful disrepair, the prophet reminded them of their special calling.  The holy city has not yet attained its full potential, he says; to repeat a famous phrase, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”  Jerusalem is being called to show forth the glory of the Lord for all the world to see.
  • Nations shall walk by your light.  Let me rehearse so that I may reflect that brilliant and spectacular light in my own speaking of the word.  The days of the kingdom have ended, but even greater days lie ahead for a people whose God is victorious and vindicated in their own renewal.
  • Raise your eyes and look about: they all gather and come.  Let me raise my own eyes, and show some of the release of a long-sought homecoming as I read, Your sons and daughters come from afar.  The world is full of refugees, exiles (some in our assembly today) and hostages, and I will keep them in mind.
  • When I reach the names of those cities fabled for their outstanding wealth, I can say them warmly and proudly: Midian, Ephah, Sheba.  Just like our assembly today, they are proclaiming the praises of the Lord.
  • There are many connections between the prophecy and the Gospel for today.  For one, the gold and frankincense brought to the city in tribute.  For another, the kings who walk by your shining radiance.  Jesus, the light of the world, is the supreme fulfillment of the prophet’s vision for Jerusalem.

Key elements

  • Climax: I find it at the point when I lift my head at Raise your eyes.  No longer a dream, it has become a reality that saints and sinners alike must acknowledge.  Even apart from the manifestation of Christ to the nations, this city is holy to three world religions and draws us all like a magnet.
  • Message for our assembly: Let us not judge by appearances but take pride in the simplicity of our lives, because these are as precious as gold and frankincense in the sight of God.  It is God’s glory that we reflect.  As the psalm says, The Lord has done this and we are filled with wonder.
  • I will challenge myself: To become as lyrical as I can in describing the long procession of the peoples of the world to pay their tribute to our God.
SOURCE: Paul J. Schlachter at LectorWorks.org
Greg Warnusz

Intro for listeners

When the Jews began slowly to return from exile in Babylon, their capital Jerusalem was desolate. The prophet encourages them with images of brightness, then surprises them with the prediction that they will attract pagan nations to God.

Oral interpretation

The Historical Situation:  This is from that part of the book of Isaiah where the author addresses the Jews trying to re-establish themselves in their homeland after a few decades in exile in Babylon. As these Notes said of the Isaiah, chapter 62, passage for the Christmas mass at dawn, “Other parts of this section of Isaiah (chapters 56-66), tell us how slow and frustrating that project was. Those already home fretted about the slow pace of the others’ return (‘Your sons come from afar, your daughters in the arms of their nurses.’) To get the flavor of it, imagine how American Southerners might have felt during Reconstruction, or a contemporary family might feel when they return to a fire-damaged home.”

The Theological Background:  For a dispirited people, there are two important points here:

  • Though they feel helpless, God can and will intervene to restore them, by God’s power rather than by their own.
  • God will use them to attract to himself other nations, other nations for whom the embattled and just recently exiled Jews had very little respect.

To describe God’s method of accomplishing this, Isaiah uses the metaphor of light. The world’s people are in darkness, and Judah will illuminate them.

Proclaiming it: So how shall you proclaim this? Remember Isaiah was speaking to beaten-down people engaged in a frustrating struggle. How would the prophet have used his voice in encouraging them? Also, be sure to contrast the Judeans (“you”) with the others, who are described as “the peoples” and “nations” and “they all.” The description of the wealth arriving in Jerusalem should find you sounding awe-struck.

SOURCE: Greg Warnusz at LectorPrep.org

FOCAL THEMES

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Theology of Work Commentary

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FIRST READING—No commentary available for this reading.

SOURCE: © 2014 Theology of Work Project, Inc.; Used with permission. (Licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.)

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Life Recovery Bible

Step twelve: Sharing our life

Isaiah 60:1-3 — God’s people are called to let their light shine to the nations. God wants to transform all of us and use us to bring his truth to others. We are reminded of Step Twelve, which says that an important part of recovery is sharing our life as living proof that recovery is possible with God’s help.

SOURCE: Content taken from The Life Recovery Bible notes by Stephen Arterburn & David Stoop. Copyright © 1998, 2017. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.

BIBLE STUDY

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Sermon Writer

Arise, shine; for your light has come

Arise, shine; for your light has come

1Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of Yahweh is risen on you. 2For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples; but Yahweh will arise on you, and his glory shall be seen on you.

“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of Yahweh is risen on you” (v. 1). The people of Jerusalem have suffered through the darkness of a lengthy exile—and a difficult return to a Jerusalem that lay in ruins—and neighbors opposed to the rebuilding of the city and the temple. They have been beaten down by circumstances—circumstances brought upon them by their sin—circumstances that constituted God’s judgment. However, God has not punished them to destroy them, but to redeem them. Now the time of their redemption has come, and it is time for them to receive it. They have been living in the darkness of despair, but their “light has come”—”the glory of Yahweh is risen on” them. That light is Yahweh, who has seemed so absent for so long.

To receive the gift of their redemption, they must arise—lift themselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually to begin the work that Yahweh has set before them. After arising, they are to shine—to reflect the light of Yahweh’s glory both inside and outside their community—to bear witness to the light that has begun, once again, to enrich their lives.

There is a parallelism here between “light” and “glory.” The glory of the Lord is “often associated with brightness or splendor in theophanies” (divine appearances) (Myers, 420).

“For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples; but Yahweh will arise on you, and his glory shall be seen on you” (v. 2). The exiles experienced spiritual darkness in their lengthy exile, but now the great reversal has begun. It will be “the peoples” (Gentiles) who will be enveloped in “thick darkness,” and the former exiles who will experience the light of Yahweh’s glory. We are reminded of an earlier verse, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who lived in the land of the shadow of death, on them the light has shined” (9:2).

Nations shall come to your light

3Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.

This verse brings to mind the Wise Men from the East who came following the star to the place of Jesus’ birth (Matthew 2:1-12).

We should also briefly recap here the story of the return of the exiles to Jerusalem. That story began with King Cyrus of Persia, who defeated the Babylonians and led Persia to become the dominant power in the region. “Yahweh stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom” to proclaim the king’s edict (Ezra 1:1).

In that edict, Cyrus acknowledged that the Lord charged him to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 2:2). Therefore, he gave permission to the exiles to return to Jerusalem, and commanded that others assist them in this endeavor with “silver, with gold, with goods, and with animals, besides the freewill offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:4). Cyrus himself returned all the gold and silver vessels that the Babylonians had removed from the temple several decades earlier—over five thousand gold and silver vessels in all (Ezra 1:10).

The exiles, more than forty-two thousand of them plus servants and animals, returned to Jerusalem and began the task of rebuilding the temple (Ezra 2-3). They encountered resistance from the local people, who wrote King Artaxerxes (a successor to Cyrus), slandering the exiles. As a result, the former exiles had to discontinue work on the temple for a time (Ezra 4). However, the former exiles made an appeal to King Darius (another successor to Cyrus), asking him to check the royal records to confirm Cyrus’ decree. After doing so, Darius permitted the former exiles to resume rebuilding, and agreed to bear the cost (Ezra 5-6).

Ezra 7 then tells of Artaxerxes sending a decree to the treasurers in the province Beyond the River: “Whatever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, shall require of you, it be done with all diligence, to one hundred talents of silver, and to one hundred measures of wheat, and to one hundred baths of wine, and to one hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much” (Ezra 7:21-22).

This history is related to Isaiah 60:3-6, because it tells the story of “the nations” (Gentiles) providing support for the rebuilding of the temple. The edicts by Cyrus and Darius led to ships and caravans heading for Jerusalem bearing great treasure.

(NOTE: The name, Artaxerxes, in Ezra 4:11 is confusing, because Artaxerxes I ruled 464-424 B.C., many years after Darius’ death in 486 B.C. However, Darius is mentioned in Ezra 5:6 as if he followed Artaxerxes. I haven’t been able to reconcile that.)

SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Exegesis Outline

First Reading Exegesis

Richard Niell Donavan, a Disciples of Christ clergyman, published SermonWriter from 1997 until his death in 2020. His wife Dale has graciously kept his website online. A subscription is no longer required.

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Agape Bible Study

The glory of God’s Church

In the First Reading from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, the symbolism of light dramatizes the hope of God appearing to a world darkened by sin.  The passage looks forward in time to Jesus Christ, “the Light of the world,” He who drives out the darkness of sin and death (Jn 1:5; 8:12).  He is a divine “Light” shining in the darkness prophesied by the holy prophets of God.

Focus of Isaiah's Prophecy

The focus of the prophecies in Isaiah 60:1-64:11 is the restoration of Jerusalem.  In its renewal, Jerusalem will become the dwelling place of the glory of the Lord from which all nations will hear the news of God’s universal gift of salvation.  The most remarkable feature of the restored Jerusalem will be her radiance, mentioned in verses 1-3 at the beginning of the poem and again at the end of the poem (verses 19-22).  It is a radiance that comes from the glory of God.

The visit of the Magi and their worship of the Christ, which we celebrate in our liturgy today, is the fulfillment of verse 6: Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the LORD.  As the Gentile Magi from the east beheld the Christ-child, They prostrated themselves and did him homage.  Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Mt 2:11).

Agape Bible Study by Michal E. Hunt; used with permission.
Symbols of the Church's universality

The Church sees in Isaiah’s prophecy the symbols of her universality.  The nations of the earth will come in pilgrimage to the Church from the east and the west. They will bring frankincense for worshipping the One True God and gold as a gift for Christ the King and His Kingdom of the Church that carries on His earthly mission of mercy, comfort, and forgiveness until His return.

There are also eschatological overtones in the First Reading that point to the heavenly Jerusalem at the end of time, which St. John described in the Book of Revelation (see Rev 21:9-27 and 22:5).  Some of the wording is virtually the same; for example, from our reading, compare Isaiah 60:3 with Revelation 21:24.

Isaiah 60:3 Revelation 21:24
60:3 Nations shall walk by your light and kings by your shining radiance. 21:24 The nations will walk by its light, and to it, the kings of the earth will bring their treasure.

We can also compare other verses from Isaiah 60 that are not in our reading with passages in the Book of Revelation: compare Isaiah 60:11 with Revelation 21:25-26; 60:14 with Revelation 3:9; and 60:19 with Revelation 21:23 and 22:5.

In the final chapter of the Book of Isaiah, God unites the hope for a restoration of the Jerusalem Temple after the Babylonian exile with the promise of the gift of universal salvation.  The “good news” of God’s gift of universal salvation through Christ Jesus became the focus of the early Christians in their mission to fulfill Old Testament prophecy by carrying the Gospel of salvation to all the nations on earth.

The promise of universal salvation is in continuity with our hopes in the Church today.  It is the mission of the Church to reach every corner of the earth with Christ’s message of salvation before the Second Advent of Christ.  His return will bring about the end of the Messianic Era and the end of the opportunity for repentance and conversion in the Last Judgment and the creation of a new heaven and new earth.

At the time of His glorious return, heaven and earth will dissolve in fire, and then the people will see the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Rev 21:2).

The new Jerusalem, described in Revelation 21:2, is the Church, the Bride of Christ, which will come down from heaven as a city that has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb.  The nations will walk by its light, and to it, the kings of the earth will bring their treasure (Rev 21:23-24).  It is this radiant image of the Church to which all God’s people, past, present, and future look with hope.

Agape Bible Study by Michal E. Hunt; used with permission.
commentary
Fresco (1860) by Carl Gottfried Pfannschmidt showing king David with quotation of Psalm 72:11: "May all kings bow down to him and all nations serve him." Saint Mary church. Barth (Western Pomerania).

"May all kings bow down to him and all nations serve him." — Psalm 72:11

PHOTO CONNECTION
Fresco (1860) by Carl Gottfried Pfannschmidt showing king David with quotation of Psalm 72:11: "May all kings bow down to him and all nations serve him." Saint Mary church. Barth (Western Pomerania).

Responsorial Psalm

Epiphany (B)

Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13

Lord, every nation on earth will adore you

Psalm 72 – “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you,” speaks of God’s universal plan to save all people, thereby connecting this psalm to the overall theme of this Sunday’s readings.

©2020 Fr. Eamon Tobin. Used with permission.

Psalm 72, a messianic psalm, prays for the coming of a ruler who will be God’s faithful representative on Earth. When the psalmist begs for God’s judgment, the hope is not so much for one who will punish the guilty as for a ruler who will alleviate the pain of those who have been exploited. While that might sound like two sides of the same coin, the reality is that judgment on the guilty often does nothing significant on behalf of those who have been offended.

On the feast of the Epiphany, we can see this psalm as a prayer that God’s own justice may reign on Earth through the rule of the messiah. That means that the people of God will be a light to the nations and that every nation on Earth will be able to see how good it is when a people live according to God’s will.

Another dimension of this psalm’s application to the feast of the day comes through in each of the verses we sing. They recall what kind of a God we sing to. As the God incarnate in Jesus and the one who led Israel through her long history, this is the God who heals the broken in body and soul, who binds their wounds. At the same time, this is the God of all creation who knows each star, whose might knows no limit. The entire psalm proclaims the praise of the God who reveals that true greatness is revealed in care for the lowly.

©2017 National Catholic Reporter. All Rights Reserved. Sr. Mary McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. 2017 Reflections, 2020 Reflections can be read at National Catholic Reporter website.

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FOCAL THEMES

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🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 LIFE RECOVERY COMMENTARY 🟩🟩 PSALM 🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩

Life Recovery Bible

God can help us overcome any problem

Psalm 72:12-14 — God acts on behalf of those who have no power to free themselves from their problems. He helps those who are oppressed and have no one to defend them. He has great love and compassion for those who are weak and needy.

As we face our addiction, we know what it means to be powerless. Alone, we are helpless to overcome the temptations of our dependency. But with God’s help, there is always hope for us. His power can help us overcome any problems we face, and he wants to see us through the hard times to a new life of freedom and joy.

SOURCE: Content taken from Life Application Study Bible, Third Edition. Copyright © 2019. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.

BIBLE STUDY

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Agape Bible Study

The Promise of the Messiah-King

Psalm 72 – The Response Psalm response prepares us for the Gospel account of the visit of the Gentile Magi: “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.” In remembering the journey of the Magi and their adoration of the Christ-child, we celebrate the Christmas mystery of the manifestation (epiphany) of the universal dominion of the newborn King. In that event, God became visible, clothed in human flesh, to the Magi, who were the first Gentiles from among “the nations” to give worship to the Christ.

The Messiah-King

The title attributes this psalm to Solomon; however, verse 20 identifies this psalm as The end of the psalm of David, son of Jesse.  This identification only means that the psalm is the end of the collection of Davidic psalms running from Psalm 51 to Psalm 72, and it is different from the first collection of Davidic psalms in Psalms 3-41.  Psalm 72 is a royal psalm in which the king, as a representative of God, is the instrument of divine justice (verses 1-4 and 12-14) and a blessing for his people and the world (verses 5-7, 15-17).  He prays for wisdom in judging his people with justice and requests the same for the royal heir who will succeed him (verses 2-13).  “Justice” and “righteousness” are attributes connected with the saving power of God (see Ps 9:4, 7; 19:9; etc.).

8 May he rule from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.  […] 10 The kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts; the kings of Arabia and Seba shall bring tribute.  11 All kings shall pay him homage, all nations shall serve him.

God’s religious representatives to the people were His high priests.  However, Yahweh intended that the kings of the House of David were to serve as His civil representatives to the people and as the image of godly justice to the world.  It was a dynastic kingship that God promised David would endure forever, with each Davidic king recognized as a “son” of God (see the promise of the Davidic Covenant in 2 Sam 7:11-16; 23:5).  All nations, writes the psalmist, must give homage to God’s kingly representative endowed with the righteousness of God.  The psalmist lists the boundaries of the world as he knew it, from the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Persian Gulf in the east, and from the Euphrates River in the north (referred to as “the river” in verse 8), to the islands and lands of southwestern Europe (called “the ends of the earth”).

12 For he shall rescue the poor man when he cries out, and the afflicted when he has no one to help him.  13 He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor; the lives of the poor he shall save.

Verses 12-13 describe the future Davidic king as a King-Messiah.  Endowed with the righteousness of God, he will have compassion for the poor and the afflicted, and he will save their lives.  All nations will recognize the King-Messiah righteousness.  They will acknowledge Him and serve Him (verse 11) because He brings deliverance to all the oppressed of the earth.

Agape Bible Study by Michal E. Hunt; used with permission.
Christian interpretation of the psalm

The books of the prophets and Jewish tradition identify this ideal Davidic king as the Redeemer-Messiah (i.e., Is 9:1-6; 11:10; Jer 23:5; 30:9; Ez 34:23; 37:24).  Christian tradition interprets the verses from this psalm as a prophecy pointing to Jesus of Nazareth (Mt 1:1; Lk 1:31-32).  The Church sees the fulfillment of this passage (especially verses 10-11) manifested in the arrival of the Magi and their adoration of the Christ-child (see Mt 2:1-12).  The Fathers of the Church also saw fulfillment in Jesus’ compassion for the afflicted (verses 12-13) and the universal reach of the salvation Jesus brought as the King-Messiah.

St. Peter affirmed the fulfillment of Jesus as the Davidic King-Messiah in his homily at Pentecost in AD 30 in Acts 2:25-36, saying of David:

“But since he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne, he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah” (Acts 2:30). 

And Pope St. Leo the Great wrote in his encyclical on the birth of Christ: “On this day, too, David prophesies in the psalm when he says:

All people will come to prostrate themselves before you, Lord; they will bless your name, and also, The Lord makes his victory known, and reveals his justice to all the nations.

We know that this came to pass when the three wise kings, called forth from a distant country, were led by a star to see and worship the King of heaven and earth.  The docility of those wise men who followed in the wake of the star gives a model of obedience to us, so that in the midst of all the possibilities open to us we may be servants of the grace that draws all men to Christ” (St. Leo the Great, In Nativitate Domini, 3).

Agape Bible Study by Michal E. Hunt; used with permission.
commentary
Mural of Saint Paul the Apostle inside a Greek Orthodox Church

"The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." — Eph 3:6

PHOTO CONNECTION
Mural of Saint Paul the Apostle inside a Greek Orthodox Church

Second Reading

Epiphany (B)

Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6

We all share the same promise

  • The earliest Christians, mostly Jews, struggled with the realization that even Gentiles are included in God’s plan of salvation.
  • Today’s letter points out that people in former ages did not understand that God’s mercy extended to all people.
  • Gentiles and Jews are one body in Christ.

OPTION: Colossians 3:12-21

SOURCE: Our Sunday Visitor

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REFLECTIONS

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Fr. Clement Thibodeau

Astonishing revelation: Gentiles are brought to Christ

SECOND READING — The Letter to the Ephesians proclaims that all men and women of all social, political, and economic classes are gathered as one in the community of faith. That is the mystery which was hidden for all ages and has now been revealed in Jesus Christ. God has done that which was previously impossible: uniting Jews and Gentiles into one people! The Church is that unique creation of God where all people are the chosen people. If God can bridge the split between Jews and Gentiles, what divisions are we not called to bridge today in the Church?

© 2017 Portland Diocese / Father Clement D. Thibodeau. Used with permission.

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Fr. Eamon Tobin

Paul’s mission to the Gentiles

SECOND READING —  Paul’s message about his special mission to bring the Good News to the Gentiles connects this reading with the general theme of the day. Jesus reveals to Paul and the Apostles that the total equality of Jews and Gentiles figures in God’s plan of salvation.

The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. — Eph 3:6 (NAB)

©2020 Fr. Eamon Tobin. Used with permission.

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Sr. Mary McGlone

Christ is revealed and accepted by the nations

SECOND READING — This reading is obviously chosen to highlight today’s feast as one in which Christ is revealed to and accepted by “the nations,” even if not fully by the chosen people. The author, most likely a disciple of Paul, assumes that the readers are aware of the relationship of Israel with her God. Israel experienced a long history of learning that there was but one God, Creator of all, who had chosen them as the first witnesses and messengers of God’s plan for all of creation.

This people had spent generations learning how to remain true to their faith and to fulfill their vocation to be a light to the nations. When it came to understanding Jesus as Messiah in relation to the Gentiles, the early Christian community had to pass through an immense struggle to recognize that one could be a Christian without becoming a practicing Jew as well.

This selection from the Letter to the Ephesians offers a complement to Matthew’s narrative about the Magi. It reminds the community that Christ came for all people and that in him, Gentiles have become coheirs with the chosen people.

©2017 National Catholic Reporter. All Rights Reserved. Sr. Mary McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Her 2020 Reflections can be read at National Catholic Reporter website.

TIPS FOR READERS

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Paul J. Schlachter

Points to consider

  • It has now been revealed.  That powerful word now has lost none of its timeliness.  The apostle’s message remains valid as long as we repeat these words.
  • I look upon the congregation as I read, all of us Gentiles.  And I keep in mind how far we must go to break down the barriers between us.  The passage declares that we are members of the same body and co-partners in the promise of Christ Jesus through the gospel.  That was the apostle’s ministry but it should equally be ours.
  • Again the subservience of this translation to the official Latin version should not throw me off stride.  That one word promise is filled with multiple meanings (I think of how Paul contrasts it to law in Romans) but – I guarantee you – it will not be heard the way the apostle meant it (What was that?  What did Christ promise us?), if anyone hears it at all.  Judicious pauses may bail us out again.  I will make one right after ‘Jesus.’

Key elements

  • Climax: The Gentiles are now co-heirs in Christ Jesus.  The weight of this truth may already have been lost by the time Ephesians was written, as Gentiles flocked into the assemblies of believers and outnumbered the Jews.  By today it has overshadowed the apostle’s assumption in his statement: that they are co-heirs with the Jews.  I can remind my listeners, by the way I say ‘co-heirs,’ that we should pray for a realization of this shared heritage among Christians and Jews.
  • The message for our assembly: We continue in the age of evangelization.  Salvation is the destiny of every person, not just those inside this building.
  • I will challenge myself: To bring out the rich meanings that will be lost if I read too quickly and without understanding.  In other words, I will strive for an active interpretation of the passage.
SOURCE: Paul J. Schlachter at LectorWorks.org
Greg Warnusz

Introduction for listeners

Even Jewish converts to Christ maintained the ancient belief that Jews were God’s only chosen people. Paul says God has now revealed a long-secret mystery, namely that Gentiles, too, are to enjoy God’s favor, because of Christ.

Oral Interpretation

Historical Situation: This reading, too, is about a revelation. The medium is not light piercing darkness, however, but the historical acting out of God’s once secret plan. The plan, as Paul now sees, was to nourish the Jews as God’s chosen people for a long time, then to extend God’s favor beyond the Jews to the Gentiles, by the coming of Jesus into the world. Ephesians is written by a Jew to Gentiles. So when Paul says something was “given to me for your benefit” he means “as a Jewish Christian I have something to pass on to you previously not-chosen people, something that has been kept from you until now.”

Proclaiming It: To proclaim this in a way faithful to Paul’s intention, you have to emphasize “mystery” and “revelation” in the first sentence, then “Gentiles”, “coheirs”, and “copartners” in the last sentence. An unprepared listener hearing you should get an idea like this, “There was an in group and an out group, and then Jesus came, revealing God’s plan to invite the outsiders inside.”

SOURCE: Greg Warnusz at LectorPrep.org

FOCAL THEMES

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Theology of Work Commentary

___

SECOND READING— No commentary available for this reading.

SOURCE: © 2014 Theology of Work Project, Inc.; Used with permission. (Licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.)
Life Recovery Bible

God accepts us

Ephesians 3:1-13 — In these verses one truth stands out: God accepts all of us through faith. Race, reputation, and position have no bearing on God’s forgiveness. Paul wrote these words to convince the believers of their oneness in Christ.

Apparently some of the Jewish believers claimed superiority because of their relationship to God in the Old Testament Scriptures. Paul refuted their view by reminding them that our relationship with God is based on our trust in Jesus Christ, not our personal history or position in society.

This important truth is encouraging for us in recovery. Our addiction may have destroyed the reputation we once commanded. None of this matters to God. If we seek his forgiveness, he will accept us and help us make a new start.

SOURCE: Content taken from The Life Recovery Bible notes by Stephen Arterburn & David Stoop. Copyright © 1998, 2017. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.

BIBLE STUDY

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Sermon Writer

Fellow heirs and fellow members

Fellow heirs and fellow members

5 which in other generations was not made known to the children of men, as it has now been revealed to his holy (Greek: hagios) apostles and prophets in the Spirit; 6 that the Gentiles are fellow heirs (Greek: synkleronoma), and fellow members (sussomos) of the body, and fellow partakers (symmetochos) of his promise in Christ Jesus through the Good News,

“which in other generations was not made known to the children of men, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit” (v. 5).  That which had not been known in earlier generations was that Christ would bring Gentiles into God’s family (see v. 6).

That, however, has now been revealed to Christ’s “holy (hagios) apostles and prophets in the Spirit.”The Greek word hagios means holy or set apart for God.  The tabernacle and temple were holy, because they were set apart as the dwelling places of God.  Sacrificial animals were holy, because they were set apart for a Godly purpose. God has set these apostles and prophets apart for Godly work—bringing Gentiles into God’s family—God’s household.

Some scholars have suggested that the word holy modifies only apostles and not prophets.  In other words, it is “holy apostles” and “prophets” (not “holy prophets”).  That idea gains support elsewhere when Paul prioritizes various callings:  “First apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracle workers, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, and various kinds of languages” (1 Corinthians 12:28).

It is “the Spirit” who has revealed the mystery to the apostles and prophets—who have, in turn, make known to the church what the Spirit has revealed to them.

“that the Gentiles are fellow heirs” (synkleronoma) (v. 6a). Synkleronoma combines two Greek words—syn (with) and kleronomos (an heir).  The Gentiles are joint-heirs with the Jews.  Gentiles haven’t displaced Jews, but have been invited to sit at God’s table and to share on an equal basis.

An heir is a person who has the legal right to an inheritance.  Jewish law regulated inheritances, giving two shares to the firstborn son and one share each to the other sons (Deuteronomy 21:17).

God’s first family was the nation of Israel (Romans 9:4-5).  God said, “Israel is my son, my firstborn” (Exodus 4:22).  Paul says that we have become “joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:14-17)—the result of God adopting us into his family (John 1:12-13; Romans 8:15, 23; Galatians 3:16; 4:4-6; Ephesians 1:5; Revelation 21:7).

“and fellow members of the body” (sussomos)  (v. 6b)Sussomos combines syn (with) and soma (body)—one body.  “And fellow members of the body” translates this one Greek word.

In this context, the word body refers to the church, the body of which Christ is the head.  Elsewhere, Paul says:

• “We, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5).

• “For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all given to drink into one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).

and fellow partakers (symmetochos) of his promise in Christ Jesus through the Good News” (v. 6c). Symmetochos combines syn (with) and metochos (partaker).

The image that comes to my mind is that of people sitting together at a table—food served family style from large bowls—each person taking what he/she needs.

Note that all three of these words, synkleronoma (fellow heirs), sussomos (fellow members), and symmetochos (fellow partakers) start with the word syn (with).  Syn suggests a close bond, and that is certainly implied in each of the three syn words.

Also note the way the original recipients of this letter would have heard this verse:

You are synkleronoma (fellow heirs).
You are sussomos (fellow members).
You are symmetochos (fellow partakers).

There is a graceful, poetic note to these similar-sounding words that is difficult to convey in a translation.

“of his promise.”  In chapter 2, Paul reminded these Gentiles that they had been “strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”  But then he went on the say:

“But now in Christ Jesus
you who once were far off are made near in the blood of Christ.
For he is our peace, who made both one,
and broke down the middle wall of partition” (2:12-14).

In other words, the Gentiles, who had been ineligible to receive the promise, had by the grace of Christ become eligible.

Exegesis Outline

Second Reading Exegesis

Richard Niell Donavan, a Disciples of Christ clergyman, published SermonWriter from 1997 until his death in 2020. His wife Dale has graciously kept his website online. A subscription is no longer required.

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Agape Bible Study

The Good news of God’s Universal Gift of Salvation

St. Paul, in our Second Reading, writes about the mystery that was God’s plan to deliver Gentiles along with the Jews through Christ’s work of redemption.  Paul writes that the implementation of that plan to bring the Gentiles to salvation began with the Gospel message delivered by Jesus’ Apostles and disciples (see Acts 8:26-38 and Acts 10:1-48).  However, Paul also writes that Jesus specifically gave the message of the Gospel of salvation to him as his life’s mission at the time of his conversion experience (Acts 9:15).

Mystery made known

The mystery (verse 3) was God’s divine plan to deliver Gentiles, along with Israel, through Christ’s work of redemption that had been kept hidden from the Old Covenant people.  The resurrected Christ specifically gave St. Paul the mission to implement the plan to bring salvation to the Gentiles at the time of Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:15).  It was a mission confirmed at a later by St. Peter and the Apostles (Gal 2:7-9).

Agape Bible Study by Michal E. Hunt; used with permission.
Equality of the Gentiles as coheirs

5b it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit 6 that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.

The Church affirmed the equality of the Gentiles as coheirs with Jewish-Christians at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts chapter 15.  St. Peter addressed the council and said of the Gentiles:

“My brothers, you are well aware that from early days God made his choice among you that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the Gospel and believe.  And God, who knows the heart, bore witness by granting them the Holy Spirit just as he did us. He made no distinction between us and them, for by faith, he purified their hearts” (Acts 15:7b-9).

At the Council of Jerusalem, the early leaders of the Church recognized the fulfillment of God’s promised gift of universal salvation, prophesied by the prophets like Isaiah in our first reading, and carried out in the work of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ that is His Church.

Agape Bible Study by Michal E. Hunt; used with permission.
commentary
Epiphany means manifestation. On this Sunday, the Church invites us to celebrate God’s universal plan to save all people – Jews as well as Gentiles.

“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star* at its rising and have come to do him homage.” — Matthew 2:2

PHOTO CONNECTION
Epiphany means manifestation. On this Sunday, the Church invites us to celebrate God’s universal plan to save all people – Jews as well as Gentiles.

Gospel Reading

Epiphany (B)

Mt 2:1-12

They opened their coffers and present him with gifts

  • Matthew’s Gospel clearly demonstrates that all the prophecies of old have come to fulfillment in Christ.
  • As promised, Gentile wise men recognize Jesus as Messiah even when the Jerusalem sages do not.
  • The official priests and scribes quote the messianic prophecies that identify Bethlehem, the city of David’s birth, as the birthplace of the Messiah. However, they do not follow their own wisdom.

OPTION: Luke 2:22-40

SOURCE: Our Sunday Visitor

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REFLECTIONS

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Fr. Clement Thibodeau

Wise men from the Gentiles follow a light to find Christ

GOSPEL — The Gospel according to Matthew, like the other three Gospels, are theological writings, a book with a religious message for salvation, calling people to personal conversion and to corporate worship and service. Matthew’s purpose is not merely to give historical information about a child born in an obscure Judean village. In his first chapter, Matthew proclaimed that, despite appearances, this child is the Son of God, the Messiah of God, the One promised from ages past. In the second chapter, he illustrates two contrasting responses to the child: The Magi and Herod. The message is clear for the members of Matthew’s church community: Those who are wise will come to worship; those who are filled with pride in their own heritage will seek only to preserve themselves and their positions of prestige and power. Israel rejects its King; Gentiles have come and will continue to come to worship.

Notice that the Gospel does not give the number of Magi, nor are they identified as Kings. We have inferred the number of visitors from the number of their gifts. The royalty of these visitors is also inferred from the nature of their gifts: royal gifts, the kind of gifts given to a King, from people who are themselves kings (?). The Child is the expected Shepherd of Israel (Micah 5:2 and 2 Samuel 5:2).

Matthew, the wise old rabbi in a Christian-Jewish community, needs to persuade his community, mixed with both Jewish and Gentile converts, that their experience of integration is the model intended by God for the new order, the new covenant in the blood of Christ. He picks up on a legend that the other Gospels do not seem to need: the visit of the Magi, those Gentile stargazers who come in fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah to adore the Infant. (Mark is not concerned with the infancy at all. Luke does not show any urgency about integrating Jews and Gentiles; it is already a fact for him.)

Magi: Learned men who studied the stars. In the western Church, we invented names for them: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. We even depict one of them as black.None of this is in the Scriptures. Were there three or five or two? Christian art has made them look like kings, perhaps under the influence of Psalm 72:10 and Isaiah 49:7 and 60:10.

King of the Jews: Foreshadowing the trial of Jesus and the notice of the charge against him affixed to the cross by his executioners.

His star: Some interpreters of Numbers 24:17 said a star would herald the Messiah.

© 2017 Portland Diocese / Father Clement D. Thibodeau. Used with permission.

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Fr. Eamon Tobin

The journey all seekers must take

GOSPEL —  The Gospel is the fulfillment of the first reading, which speaks of all the nations streaming to Jerusalem bearing gifts for the new King. The Magi represent the non-Jewish world who are seekers of God in their own way.

The Magi’s journey to Bethlehem in search of the new King is symbolic of the journey all seekers must take. Thus, Epiphany is not only a feast on which we celebrate God’s manifestation of himself to the Gentile world, but also our movement toward God.

When Matthew is writing his Gospel in 80AD, his own people have almost totally rejected Jesus while large groups of Gentiles are accepting him. This rejection/acceptance dynamic is present in today’s Gospel. While Herod’s plot to kill Jesus symbolizes Israel’s rejection of Jesus, the Magi’s acceptance of Jesus symbolizes the Gentiles’ movement toward Jesus. This rejection/acceptance dynamic will be played out many times in Matthew’s Gospel. While the Pharisees will close their hearts to Jesus, the Gentiles will open their hearts to him.

©2020 Fr. Eamon Tobin. Used with permission.

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Sr. Mary McGlone

Details of the story of the Magi

GOSPEL —  Artists probably have had more influence on our understanding of the story of the Magi than has Matthew the Evangelist. Painters have shown us that there were three kings, one of them often dressed like a Muslim. Many depictions include one black king and some artists have portrayed them as representing youth, adulthood and the elderly. The hymn “We Three Kings,” the first widely popular Christmas carol written in the United States, has helped to cement the interpretation of the gifts they brought as gold for Christ as king, incense for his divinity and myrrh as a sign of his future suffering. The notion that their names were Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar began some 500 years or more after the birth of Jesus along with the legend that they came from Persia, India and Babylonia. All of those ideas have their place in popular piety and thus real evangelical worth even though they are not part of Matthew’s story.

When we look to Matthew’s text, we find none of those details fully corroborated. The assumption that there were three is based only on fact that Matthew named three gifts — offerings which could have come from the hands of two people or a whole caravan which included women and children. Matthew did speak of the Magi in the plural, so we know he intended us to think of more than one person, but he does not indicate what the gifts symbolized nor does he name the visitors or their places of origin except to say that they came from the east.

All of that information leads us to ask what Matthew really does tell us and why. Matthew begins his Gospel with a genealogy and the angels’ message to Joseph. Until Chapter 2 of the Gospel, Matthew hadn’t even mentioned where Jesus was born and that news comes in connection with the visit of the Magi. Matthew began by concentrating only on the fact that Jesus was a descendant of Abraham and David. He then only mentions Jesus’ birth in connection with the fact that it took place in Bethlehem in the days of King Herod.

Bethlehem had the curious and typically scriptural fame of being a very little place that had great importance because it was the city of the shepherd-king, David. The fact that Jesus was born during the reign of King Herod tells historians that it happened before Herod’s death in the year 4 B.C.E. That detail also tells social historians and Matthew’s first audience that Jesus was born in a terrifying time of history. Jesus, the “king of the Jews” was born during the reign of a ruler so despotic that he had even arranged the murder of his own sons because he thought they were plotting against him. (Some people were known to quip that it was safer to be Herod’s sow than his son while others pointed out that Herod demonstrated far more interest in saving his throne than his soul.) Matthew’s subtle bits of historical information provided the equivalent of ominous background music to the story that was to come.

As Matthew tells the story, when the Magi arrived in Jerusalem they began to talk about the star they had seen and asked around about the newly born king of the Jews. This was Matthew’s subtle explanation that the wisdom of the Gentiles goes only so far; the Magi knew that someone important had been born, but they had to turn to the prophecies of the chosen people to understand it more fully. Matthew also uses this story to contrast the religiously open Magi to the leaders of the chosen people who, although they could read the prophecies, exhibited little or no curiosity about the Magi and what their star might portend.

The story goes on with Herod’s fearful inquiry about the origins of the Messiah and his request that the Magi inform him of everything they learn. Throughout, Matthew is weaving a story that highlights the contrast between Jesus, the one born as king, and Herod, Rome’s paranoid puppet.

Matthew’s infancy narrative will end with the holy family’s flight into Egypt and eventual return to Galilee. In recounting this story, Matthew has woven a Gospel in miniature. He shows us that Jesus is the legitimate son of David, and more. He foreshadows the conflicts Jesus will have with both Roman and Jewish authorities who collude to defend themselves from the threat he poses to their exercise of power. The story both summarizes the Gospel and brings the Christmas season to a fitting end by reminding us that, like the Magi, we must seek signs of God’s activity in our own moment of history.

©2017 National Catholic Reporter. All Rights Reserved. Sr. Mary McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Her 2020 Reflections can be read at National Catholic Reporter website.

TIPS FOR READERS

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Paul J. Schlachter

Points to consider

  • I have a complete story here, though veiled in some mystery.  That makes me more eager to tell it with wonder as well as understanding.
  • Matthew is showing how the magi from the east are fulfilling the ancient prophecies, as they follow the star of wonder, come to worship the newborn king and offer him their precious gifts.
  • Matthew also shows that they do not behave like Herod or other earthly kings, who became greatly troubled.  On the contrary, they were overjoyed at seeing the star.  Those in power can ascertain the truth – in Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written – but often feel threatened by it.  Those in power let their inferiors do their dirty work for them: Go and search diligently for the child.  Those with sincere heart, like the magi, set out themselves and are not ashamed to prostrate themselves and do him homage.
  • There is a wealth of themes before me, and I will be consistent in those I choose to emphasize.  I am impressed especially by the sincerity of the magi and their persistence in the search.  Finally, I am moved by their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, only partly an echo of the first reading.
  • I also hear a different opinion from Matthew about telling the good news.  The magi were warned in a dream not to return to Herod.

Key elements

  • Climax: The star came and stopped over the place where the child was.  The search has reached its end and the child is near.
  • Message for our assembly: T. S. Eliot called their journey “a hard coming.”  What does it take for someone to endure hardship and ridicule in this cause?
  • I will challenge myself: To contrast the complexity and double-dealing of the king’s court in Jerusalem, with the simple joy of the magi.  We know no more explicitly about them except their joy.
SOURCE: Paul J. Schlachter at LectorWorks.org
Greg Warnusz

Introduction for listeners

Today’s gospel reinterprets the first reading’s themes of light and of pagans bearing gifts, applying them not to the city Jerusalem, but to Jesus.

Homily Starters

OPTION A:  As other sources linked on this page show, the magi arrived at the knowledge of God’s plan by astrology, a practice forbidden to the orthodox. Indeed, one of the purposes of the gospel of Matthew as a whole, and of this passage in particular, is to open the orthodox to embrace God’s all-embracing plan. Matthew is saying, “You cannot foreclose, a priori, the possibility that God is doing something unprecedented.” The second reading says it was God’s plan all along, but only now fully revealed. Now in the first reading there is a glimmer of universality, but it’s triumphal. Trito-Isaiah expects the nations to come to Jerusalem saying, “You Jews were right all along; we’re here to do it your way now.” Matthew’s message to Jewish Christians is, “For generations we’ve been underestimating God’s embrace.” This all raises questions like “Have we let our natural tribal loyalties limit our openness or our missionary zeal?” and “Have we grown smug with our fixed catalog of ways we’ll recognize God at work in the world?”

OPTION B: It’s interesting how the story of Jesus is framed by accounts of nervous rulers conniving to protect their turfs. In the beginning it’s Herod. On the recent feast of the Holy Innocents we heard the lengths to which he would go to hold onto his power. And at the end of Jesus’ life, it’s the religious leaders, colluding with the Roman procurator, who sacrifice the innocent rather than risk a revolution. At both boundaries of the story, Jesus’ messiaship, really his kingship, is presented with subtlety. For Jesus is king in unprecedented ways. He is born not in a palace but a stable, attended not by sycophants and courtiers but by shepherds and foreign astrologers. At the beginning of his public ministry, after he fasted in the desert, someone credibly shows him and offers to give him “all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence,” which he refuses. (It’s telling to reflect on who made the offer.) In adulthood, he commands the loyalty of his subjects not by force of arms but by loving, teaching, healing, forgiving and serving them. His frame of reference was never himself but of God his Father, whose reign he proclaimed, not his own. (He declined the title “messiah” and used the title “Son of Man,” which usually means “just another son of another man.”). At the climax of his life, he is raised up not upon a throne but upon a cross, crowned not with gold but thorns.

So those who would follow Jesus the way he wants to be followed must be wary of their desires for power, both as individuals and as institutions. We love to measure our revenue, productivity, and profits, our membership, attendance and capital campaign burse, our web-site hits and referring sites, our majorities in the legislatures, troop strength, and tax reductions. But all that status is sand if we love our power more than our neighbor, if we’re more like Herod than like Jesus.

SOURCE: Greg Warnusz at LectorPrep.org

FOCAL THEMES

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Theology of Work Commentary

God draws non-believers to himself through their work

GOSPEL— The story of the magi (or as the NRSV, translates it, “wise men”) is especially relevant to work. According to Daniel 1:20, 2:27, and 5:15 and Acts 8:9, and 13:6-8, magi were astrologers who observed the stars in order to interpret dreams and practice other magic. Both Daniel and Luke (in the book of Acts) take a dim view of their profession, seeing them as charlatans or false prophets. Nonetheless, going about their work of observing the stars, they glimpse the reality of God’s power in the world. Their work, flawed as it is, guides them to recognize Jesus as the son of God. Their response is to worship as best they are able. Note their generosity, a virtue God prizes highly throughout the Bible. Contrast them to Herod, who although being from the community of faith, reacts to the wise men’s discovery with hostility. It’s hard to imagine a more un-generous response than his. This contrast points out how God’s grace extends to all people and the entire cosmos, not only to believers. Conversely, the people of God continue to fall into sin, while non-believers morality may be exemplary.

Could it be that God is still drawing non-believers to himself through their work, including workers in science, nature, or the material world? As Paul puts it, “Ever since the creation of the world, God’s eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.” (Romans 1:20). This has applications when we talk about Christ in the workplace. Although we may think we are  talking about Christ to people who don’t know him, it may actually be that God is already making himself known to them through their work, as he did with the magi. We might be more effective if we recognize that what we are actually doing is helping co-workers name and appreciate the presence of God that their work is already revealing to them. And we ourselves might do well to recognize God’s presence in our work. Christians often treat secular work with suspicion, as if the knowledge and skill employed there somehow undermines faith. Instead, what if we could recognize how all kinds of work reveal God’s handiwork and presence. Could recognizing God’s presence in ordinary work actually strengthen our faith?

SOURCE: © 2014 Theology of Work Project, Inc.; Used with permission. (Licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.)

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Life Recovery Bible

Be cautious of abusive personalities

Matthew 2:3-8, 12-18 — King Herod was a tyrant who could charm and manipulate others to achieve his ends. Herod thought he could get information about the identity and whereabouts of the Messiah from the wise men by feigning interest in and a desire to worship him.

Frequently, abusive or oppressive personalities will “play along” in the earliest stages of recovery, hoping to crush any resistance to their domination later. We need to be careful to avoid such people, as did the wise men and Joseph.

SOURCE: Content taken from The Life Recovery Bible notes by Stephen Arterburn & David Stoop. Copyright © 1998, 2017. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.

BIBLE STUDY

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Sermon Writer

The context of today's Gospel

The context of today’s Gospel

“Matthew’s sublime story of the adoration of the Magi has often been better understood by poets and artists than by scholars, whose microscopic analysis has missed its essence” (Hare, 12). What a wonderful insight! The difference is one of attitude. The poet and artist approach scripture with wonder and affection—with the heart. The scholar approaches scripture systematically and analytically—with the head. Both have their place, but this story shows how Christ enriches those who bring him their hearts. The Magi came with joy in their hearts to see the Christ child, and God allowed them to see wondrous things.

Matthew tells a very different story than Luke:

• Instead of shepherds, Matthew gives us Magi from the East.
• Instead of a stable, Matthew takes us to Herod’s palace.
• Instead of a manger, Matthew shows us gifts fit for a king.
• Instead of angels, Matthew tells us of dreams.

Although, at our Christmas pageants, we group shepherds and wise men together around the manger, the shepherds came from nearby and the wise men from afar. The wise men’s visit probably took place long after the shepherds had departed. Mary and Joseph remained in the vicinity of Bethlehem and Jerusalem until Jesus had been circumcised and presented in the temple (Luke 2:22-38). Mary also needed time to recover from the delivery before traveling to Nazareth. Presumably the wise men visited during the latter part of Mary and Joseph’s visit to Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

Matthew includes a number of dark elements in his story:

• Joseph resolves to put Mary away quietly (1:19).
• Herod kills babies in an attempt to do away with the newborn king (2:16-18).
• Joseph and his family flee to Egypt to escape the murderous king (2:13-15).
• Joseph and family return to Nazareth rather than Bethlehem (2:19-23).

There are a number of important parallels between the stories of Moses and Jesus:

• Pharaoh ordered that all Hebrew baby boys should be killed (Exodus 1:16, 22), just as Herod does (2:16-18). The baby Moses was at risk, just as is the baby Jesus.

• Moses was saved by the intervention of Pharaoh’s daughter (Exodus 2:1-10), just as Jesus is saved by a dream warning Joseph and Mary to flee (v. 11).

• As a young man, Moses, fearing for his life, fled from Pharaoh (Exodus 2:15).

• The Lord told Moses, “Go back to Egypt; for all those who were seeking your life are dead” (Exodus 4:19), just as an angel will say to Joseph, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead” (Matthew 2:19-20).

Matthew clearly intends for us to notice these parallels—and to see Jesus as a Moses-like figure. However, we need to remember this significant difference: While Moses (at God’s direction) saved Israel from its slavery, Jesus will save the world from its sins.

Another Old Testament allusion has to do with the story of Balak and Balaam in Numbers 22-24. There are at least four parallels between that story and the story of the Magi:

• A wicked king (Balak)
• A pagan soothsayer (Balaam)
• God’s intervention to foil the king’s plan
• A star (Numbers 24:17)

Copyright 2014, Richard Niell Donovan
Exegesis Outline

Gospel Exegesis

Richard Niell Donavan, a Disciples of Christ clergyman, published SermonWriter from 1997 until his death in 2020. His wife Dale has graciously kept his website online. A subscription is no longer required.

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Agape Bible Study

The Gentiles Come Bearing Gifts to Christ the King

In the Gospel Reading, the gifts the Magi gave the Christ-child had cultural and theological significance. They prostrated themselves in adoration, giving Jesus gifts of gold (a gift fit for a king), frankincense (incense used in worship and offered by priests), and myrrh (an aromatic spice produced from the gum resin of certain bushes or trees used in the preparation of the dead). The Magi were the first Gentiles to respond to God’s call to the Gentile nations to come to salvation through Christ Jesus. The story of the Gentile Magi, who sought out the Christ-child, as opposed to Herod’s chief priests who made no effort to find Him, is a precursor to the rejection of Jesus by the Jewish religious leaders and the acceptance of Jesus’ message of salvation by the Gentiles.

Jesus Christ, the true Light, gave a mission to His disciples in every generation when He called them to be a “light” to others. May the Holy Spirit instill this mission in you, and may the Church’s prayer at the beginning of the Mass be manifest in your life and the life of your faith community: “Father, You revealed your Son to the nations by the guidance of a star. Lead us to Your glory in heaven by the light of faith. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.”

Jesus born in Bethlehem

The town of Bethlehem was a little village about five miles south of Jerusalem.  Shepherds kept the herds of the Tamid lambs for the twice-daily liturgical worship service and sacrifice in the fields between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.  Bethlehem was also the birthplace of King David and where the prophet Samuel anointed David as God’s future King-Messiah of Israel.  Matthew’s announcement that Jesus was born in Bethlehem establishes Jesus as the “new David” in fulfillment of the prophecy of the prophet Micah (see 1 Sam 6:1, 10-13; Mic 5:1).  How perfect that Jesus, the “Living Bread,” should be born and laid in a feeding trough in the village whose name meant “house/place of bread.”

Agape Bible Study by Michal E. Hunt; used with permission.
The star

At the time Jesus was born, Judah was a vassal state of the Romans and ruled by a Roman ally, an Idumaean (descendant of Esau, Jacob/Israel’s elder brother) named Herod.  Sometime after Jesus’ birth, Magi from Persia, following an unusually bright star, arrived in Jerusalem.  In profane Greek, the word Magi [magos] referred to members of the Persian priestly caste who possessed occult knowledge revealed in the movement of the stars and planets.  It was a common belief in ancient times among Gentile peoples that the stars determined the destiny of men, and the appearance of certain celestial phenomena signaled the birth or death of kings.

The Magi believed the new star they observed was the fulfillment of a Jewish prophecy that foretold the birth of a Jewish king.  The Jews lived in exile in Persia for 70 years after the Babylonian conquest.  During that time of exile, the prophecies of the promised Davidic Messiah may have become known to the Persians, and they connected those prophecies, including the prophecy from Numbers 24:17 of a star/ruler advancing over Jacob/Israel, to the new star they followed to Judah.  The star the Magi followed could not have been an natural star or planet because it did not rise and set like ordinary stars and planets.  Instead, it led them for months on their journey from the east to a specific destination.

Agape Bible Study by Michal E. Hunt; used with permission.
Old Testament prophecies

Matthew’s telling of the story of the Magi recalls several Old Testament prophecies:

  • The “star” is the ruler foretold to rise from Jacob (referring to Israel) in Numbers 24:17.
  • The coming of a ruler from Judah recalls Jacob’s deathbed prophecy of kingship for Judah in Genesis 49:10.
  • Micah 5:1-3 prophesies the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem.
  • The tribute and worship of the Gentile Magi recall the prophecy of homage and gifts of the Gentile rulers to a future Davidic king in Psalm 72:10, Isaiah 49:23, and 60:6.

The prophecy that involved a future king and a “star” in Scripture was the prophecy of the Aramaean prophet Balaam before the conquest of Canaan who, inspired by the Spirit of God, said:  “I see him, though not now; I behold him, though not near: A star shall advance from Jacob, and a staff shall rise from Israel, that shall smite the brows of Moab, and the skulls of all the Shuthites, till Edom is dispossessed, and no fugitive is left in Seir.  Israel shall do valiantly, and Jacob shall overcome his foes” (Num 24:17-19 NJB)The prophecy of the future ruler, who was “a star” advancing “from Jacob” (Num 24:17), is undoubtedly fulfilled in the kingship of David (c. 1010-970 BC).  However, many Church Fathers maintained the prophecy is only partially fulfilled in David but wholly fulfilled in Jesus, son of David (Mt 1:1), who is the star/ruler in the prophecy, just as He is also the “staff from Israel” (Num 24:17 and Is 11:1).

The Magi innocently decide the best place to find the new king was in the household of the current King of Judea.  However, King Herod was understandably shaken and called in the chief priests and scribes to tell him what Sacred Scripture recorded about the birth of the Messiah.  The restrictions of the Law for a legitimate king of Israel undoubtedly made Herod uneasy.  According to the Law, only an ethnic Israelite could rule Israel (Dt 17:14-15), but Herod was an Idumaean, a descendant of Esau of Edom.  It was for this reason that most Jews regarded Herod as an illegitimate king.  Herod also would not have missed the fact that the Balaam prophecy predicts the dissolution of Edom, a troubling prediction for Herod the Edomite/Idumaean.

The priests informed King Herod that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem of Judah, the city of King David.  They quoted from verse 1 of the prophecy of the Messiah in Micah 5:1-4a: They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: 6 And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel” (Mt 2:5-6).  They probably also told Herod that the Messiah, like his ancestor David, will be a “shepherd” to His people (Mic 5:3).

That the prophecy describing the Messiah as the “shepherd” of His people is significant since in Biblical language “shepherd” is a synonym for “ruler” or “leader.”  God told the 6th-century BC prophet, Ezekiel, to prophecy against the “shepherds” of Israel, the kings, and elders who failed to lead the people in righteousness.  In Ezekiel 34:10-31, Yahweh promised to come against Israel’s priests who had “scattered the flock”: I myself will look after and tend my sheep … bringing them back from foreign lands where they have been scattered (Ez 34:11-16; underlining words referring to God added for emphasis).  The prophecy continues: I will appoint one shepherd over them to pasture them, my servant David; he shall pasture them and be their shepherd (Ez 34:23), identifying the future Messiah as a descendant of King David who was born in the town of Bethlehem.

Agape Bible Study by Michal E. Hunt; used with permission.
Response of King Herod

Herod’s response to the report of the priests and scribes was to question the Magi to determine when they first saw the star. Then, pretending that he also wanted to do homage to the new king, Herod asked the Magi to let him know if they discover a new king in Bethlehem. The Magi found the child Jesus (not the infant) living with Joseph and Mary in a house in Bethlehem and not in a stable. There is no discrepancy between Matthew’s account and Luke’s story of the birth of Jesus. At least a year passed since Jesus was born, and the Holy Family moved from their temporary shelter into a house in the village.

Agape Bible Study by Michal E. Hunt; used with permission.
The gifts of the Magi

The gifts the Magi gave the Christ-child had cultural and theological significance.  They prostrated themselves in adoration, giving the Christ-child the gifts of gold (a gift fit for a king), frankincense (incense used in worship and offered by priests), and myrrh (an aromatic spice produced from the gum resin of certain bushes or trees used in the preparation of the dead).  The Magi were the first Gentiles to respond to God’s call to the Gentile nations to come to salvation through Christ Jesus.  The story of the Gentile Magi, who sought out the Christ, as opposed to Herod’s chief priests who made no effort to find Him, is a precursor to Jesus’ rejection by His own people and the acceptance of Jesus’ message of salvation by the Gentiles.

12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.
The angel told the Magi to avoid Herod and to return to their home by another route.  We must also take this advice to heart by avoiding those who present themselves as a hindrance to our faith or our mission to honor the Christ and to spread His Gospel message of salvation to the ends of the earth (Mt 28:19-20).

Agape Bible Study by Michal E. Hunt; used with permission.

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Catena Aurea

Epiphany (B)

The Catena Aurea (Golden Chain) is Thomas Aquinas’ compilation of Patristic commentary on the Gospels. It seamlessly weaves together extracts from various Church Fathers.

Annotated index of Church Fathers used in commentary

Third Century

  • Origen – Alexandrian biblical critic, exegete, theologian, and spiritual writer; analyzed the Scriptures on three levels: the literal, the moral, and the allegorical
  • Cyprian – pagan rhetorician converted to Christianity; acquired acquired a profound knowledge of the Scriptures and the writings of Tertullian; elected bishop of Carthage; martyred in 258

Fourth Century

  • Eusebius – Bishop of Caesarea; author of Ecclesiastical History, the principal source for the history of Christianity from the Apostolic Age till his own day; also wrote a valuable work on Biblical topography called the Onomasticon
  • Athanasius – Bishop of Alexandria; attended the Council of Nicea; opposed Arianism, in defence of the faith proclaimed at Nicaea—that is, the true deity of God the Son
  • Hilary – Bishop of Poitiers; the earliest known writer of hymns in the Western Church; defended the cause of orthodoxy against Arianism; became the leading Latin theologian of his age
  • Gregory of Nazianzus – one of the “Cappadocian Fathers”; a great influence in restoring the Nicene faith and leading to its final establishment at the Council of Constantinople in 381
  • Gregory of Nyssa – one of the “Cappadocian Fathers”; Bishop of Nyssa; took part in the Council of Constantinople
  • Ambrose – Bishop of Milan; partly responsible for the conversion of Augustine; author of Latin hymns; it was through his influence that hymns became an integral part of the liturgy of the Western Church
  • Jerome – biblical scholar; devoted to a life of asceticism and study; his greatest achievement was his translation of the Bible into Latin (the Vulgate); also wrote many biblical commentaries
  • Nemesius – Christian philosopher; Bishop of Emesa in Syria
  • Augustine – Bishop of Hippo (in northern Africa); a “Doctor of the Church”; most famous work is his Confessions; his influence on the course of subsequent theology has been immense
  • Chrysostom – Bishop of Constantinople; a “Doctor of the Church”; a gifted orator; his sermons on Gen, Ps, Isa, Matt, John, Acts, and the Pauline Epistles (including Hebrews) established him as the greatest of Christian expositors
  • Prosper of Aquitaine – theologian; supporter of Augustinian doctrines; closely associated with Pope Leo I (“the Great”)
  • Damasus – pope; active in suppressing heresy
  • Apollinaris of Laodicea – Bishop of Laodicea; close friend of Athanasias; vigorous advocate of orthodoxy against the Arians
  • Amphilochius of Iconium – Bishop of Iconium; close friend of the Cappadocian Fathers; defended the full Divinity of the Holy Spirit

Fifth Century

  • Asterius of Amasea – Arian theologian; some extant homilies on the Psalms attributed to him
  • Evagrius Ponticus – spiritual writer; noted preacher at Constantinople; spent the last third of his life living a monastic life in the desert
  • Isidore of Pelusium – an ascetic and exegete; his extant correspondence contains much of doctrinal, exegetical, and moral interest
  • Cyril of Alexandria – Patriarch of Alexandria; contested Nestorius; put into systematic form the classical Greek doctrines of the Trinity and of the Person of Christ
  • Maximus of Turin – Bishop of Turin; over 100 of his sermons survive
  • Cassion (prob. Cassian) – one of the great leaders of Eastern Christian monasticism; founded two monasteries near Marseilles; best known books the Institutes and the Conferences
  • Chrysologus – Bishop of Ravenna; a “Doctor of the Church”
  • Basil “the Great” – one of the “Cappadocian Fathers”; Bishop of Caesarea; responsible for the Arian controversy’s being put to rest at the Council of Constantinople
  • Theodotus of Ancyra – Bishop of Ancyra; wrote against the teaching of Nestorius
  • Leo the Great – Pope who significantly consolidated the influence of the Roman see; a “Doctor of the Church”; his legates defended Christological orthodoxy at the Council of Chalcedon
  • Gennadius – Patriarch of Constantinople; the author of many commentaries, notably on Genesis, Daniel, and the Pauline Epistles
  • Victor of Antioch – presbyter of Antioch; commentator and collector of earlier exegetical writings
  • Council of Ephesus – declared the teachings of Nestorious heretical, affirming instead the unity between Christ’s human and divine natures
  • Nilus – Bishop of Ancyra; disciple of St John Chrysostom; founder of a monastery; conducted a large correspondence influencing his contemporaries; his writings deal mainly with ascetic and moral subjects

Sixth Century

  • Dionysius Areopagita (aka Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite) – mystical theologian; combined Neoplatonism with Christianity; the aim of all his works is the union of the whole created order with God
  • Gregory the Great – Pope; a “Doctor of the Church”; very prolific writer of works on practical theology, pastoral life, expositions of Job, sermons on the Gospels, etc.
  • Isidore – Bishop of Seville; a “Doctor of the Church”; concerned with monastic discipline, clerical education, liturgical uniformity, conversion of the Jews; helped secure Western acceptance of Filioque clause
  • Eutychius (Patriarch of Constan­tinople) – consecrated the church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople; defended the Chalcedonian faith against an unorthodox sect; became controversial later in life
  • Isaac (Bp. of Nineveh) (aka Isaac the Syrian) – monastic writer on ascetic subjects
  • Severus (Bp. of Antioch) – Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch; the leading theologian of the moderate Monophysites
  • John Climacus – ascetic and writer on the spiritual life; later Abbot of Mt. Sinai; best known for his Ladder of Divine Ascent which treats of the monastic virtues and vices
  • Fulgentius – Bishop of Ruspe in N. Africa; scholarly disposition; follower of St. Augustine; wrote many treatises against Arianism and Pelagianism

Seventh Century

  • Maximus ( of Constantinople, 645.) – Greek theologian; prolific writer on doctrinal, ascetical, exegetical, and liturgical subjects

Eighth Century

  • Bede (131CESK) – “the Venerable Bede”; a “Doctor of the Church”; pedagogue, biblical exegete, hagiographer, and historian, the most influential scholar from Anglo-Saxon England
  • John Damascene – Greek theologian; a “Doctor of the Church”; defender of images in the Iconoclastic Controversy; expounded the doctrine of the perichoresis (circumincession) of the Persons of the Trinity
  • Alcuin – Abbot of St. Martin’s (Tours); a major contributor to the Carolingian Renaissance; supervised the production of several complete editions of the Bible; responsible for full acceptance of the Vulgate in the West

Ninth Century

  • Haymo (of Halberstadt) – German Benedictine monk who became bishop of Halberstadt; prolific writer
  • Photius (of Constantinople) – Patriarch of Constantinople; a scholar of wide interests and encyclopedic knowledge; his most important work, Bibliotheca, is a description of several hundred books (many now lost), with analyses and extracts; also wrote a Lexicon
  • Rabanus Maurus – Abbot of Fulda in Hess Nassau; later Archbishop of Mainz; wrote commentaries on nearly every Book of the Bible
  • Remigius (of Auxerre) – monk, scholar, and teacher
  • Paschasius Radbertus – Carolingian theologian; wrote commentaries on Lamentations and Matthew, as well as the first doctrinal monograph on the Eucharist, he maintained the real Presence of Christ

Eleventh Century

  • Theophylact – Byzantine exegete; his principal work, a series of commentaries on several OT books and on the whole of the NT except Revelation, is marked by lucidity of thought and expression and closely follows the scriptural text
  • Anselm – Archbishop of Canterbury; a “Doctor of the Church”; highly regarded teacher and spiritual director; famous ontological argument for the existence of God as “that than which nothing greater can be thought”
  • Petrus Alphonsus – Jewish Spanish writer and astronomer, a convert to Christianity; one of the most important figures in anti-Judaic polemics
  • Laufranc (prob. Lanfranc) – Archbishop of Canterbury; commented on the Psalms and Pauline Epistles; his biblical commentary passed into the Glossa Ordinaria

Mt 2:1-12

VERSES 1-2

1.  Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judæa in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

2. Saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him.

AUGUSTINE. (non occ.) After the miraculous Virgin-birth, a God-man having by Divine power proceeded from a virgin womb; in the obscure shelter of such a cradle, a narrow stall, wherein lay Infinite Majesty in a body more narrow, a God was suckled and suffered the wrapping of vile rags—amidst all this, on a sudden a new star shone in the sky upon the earth, and driving away the darkness of the world, changed night into day; that the day-star should not be hidden by the night. Hence it is that the Evangelist says, Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

REMIGIUS. In the beginning of this passage of the Gospel he puts three several things; the person, When Jesus was born, the place, in Bethlehem of Judæa, and the time, in the days of Herod the king. These three circumstances verify his words.

JEROME. We think the Evangelist first wrote, as we read in the Hebrew, ‘Judah,’ not ‘Judæa.’ For in what other country is there a Bethlehem, that this needs to be distinguished as in ‘Judæa?’ But ‘Judah’ is written, because there is another Bethlehem in Galilee.

GLOSS. (ord. Josh. 19:15.) There are two Bethlehems; one in the tribe of Zabulon, the other in the tribe of Judah, which was before called Ephrata.

AUGUSTINE. (De Cons. Evang. 2. 15.) Concerning the place, Bethlehem, Matthew and Luke agree; but the cause and manner of their being there, Luke relates, Matthew omits. Luke again omits the account of the Magi, which Matthew gives.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. Let us see to what serves this designation of time. In the days of Herod the king. It shews the fulfilment of Daniel’s prophecy, wherein he spake that Christ should be born after seventy weeks of years. For from the time of the prophecy to the reign of Herod, the years of seventy weeks were accomplished. Or again, as long as Judæa was ruled by Jewish princes, though sinners, so long prophets were sent for its amendment; but now, whereas God’s law was held under the power of an unrighteous king, and the righteousness of God enslaved by the Roman rule, Christ is born; the more desperate sickness required the better physician.

RABANUS. Otherwise, he mentions the foreign king to shew the fulfilment of the prophecy. The Sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a Lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come. (Gen. 49:10.)

AMBROSE. (in Luc. iii. 41.) It is said, that some Idumæan robbers coming to Ascalon, brought with them among other prisoners Antipatera. He was instructed in the law and customs of the Jews, and acquired the friendship of Hyrcanus, king of Judæa, who sent him as his deputy to Pompey. He succeeded so well in the object of his mission, that he laid claim to a share of the throne. He was put to death, but his son Herod was under Antony appointed king of Judæa, by a decree of the Senate; so it is clear that Herod sought the throne of Judæa without any connection or claim of birth.

CHRYSOSTOM. Herod the king, mentioning his dignity, because there was another Herod who put John to death.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. When He was born … behold wise men, that is, immediately on His birth, shewing that a great God existed in a little one of man.

RABANUS. The Magi are men who enquire into the nature of things philosophically, but common speech uses Magi for wizards. In their own country, however, they are held in other repute, being the philosophers of the Chaldæans, in whose lore kings and princes of that nation are taught, and by which themselves knew the birth of the Lord.

AUGUSTINE. (Serm. 202.) What were these Magi but the first fruits of the Gentiles? Israelitish shepherds, gentile Magians, one from far, the other from near, hastened to the one Corner-stone.

AUGUSTINE. (Serm. 200.) Jesus then was manifested neither to the learned nor the righteous; for ignorance belonged to the shepherds, impiety to the idolatrous Magi. Yet does that Corner-stone attract them both to Itself, seeing He came to choose the foolish things of this world to confound the wise, and not to call the righteous, but sinners; that nothing great should exalt himself, none weak should despair.

GLOSS. These Magi were kings, and though their gifts were three, it is not to be thence inferred that themselves were only three in number, but in them was prefigured the coming to the faith of the nations sprung from the three sons of Noah. Or, the princes were only three, but each brought a large company with him. They came not after a year’s end, for He would then have been found in Egypt, not in the manger, but on the thirteenth day. To shew whence they came it is said, from the East.

REMIGIUS. It should be known, that opinions vary respecting the Magi. Some say they were Chaldæans, who are known to have worshipped a star as God; thus their fictitious Deity shewed them the way to the true God. Others think that they were Persians; others again, that they came from the utmost ends of the earth. Another and more probable opinion is, that they were descendants of Balaam, who having his prophecy, There shall rise a Star out of Jacob, (Numb. 24:17.) as soon as they saw the star, would know that a King was born.

JEROME. They knew that such a star would rise by the prophecy of Balaam, whose successors they were. But whether they were Chaldæans, or Persians, or came from the utmost ends of the earth, how in so short a space of time could they arrive at Jerusalem?

REMIGIUS. Some used to answer, ‘No marvel if that boy who was then born could draw them so speedily, though it were from the ends of the earth.’

GLOSS. Or, they had dromedaries and Arabian horses, whose great swiftness brought them to Bethlehem in thirteen days.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. Or, they had set out two years before the Saviour’s birth, and though they travelled all that time, neither meat nor drink failed in their scrips.

REMIGIUS. Or, if they were the descendants of Balaam, their kings are not far distant from the land of promise, and might easily come to Jerusalem in that so short time. But why does he write from the East? Because surely they came from a country eastward of Judæa. But there is also great beauty in this, They came out of the East, seeing all who come to the Lord, come from Him and through Him; as it is said in Zechariah, Behold the Man whose name is the East. (Zech. 6:12.)

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. Or, whence the day springs, thence came the first-fruits of the faith; for faith is the light of the soul. Therefore they came from the East, but to Jerusalem.

REMIGIUS. Yet was not the Lord born there; thus they knew the time but not the place of His birth. Jerusalem being the royal city, they believed that such a child could not be born in any other. Or it was to fulfil that Scripture, The Law shall go out of Sion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. (Isa. 2:3.) And there Christ was first preached. Or it was to condemn the backwardness of the Jews.

PSEUDO-AUGUSTINE. (Append. Serm. 132.) Many kings of Judæa had been born and died before, yet had Magi ever sought out any of them for adoration? No, for they had not been taught that any of these spoke from heaven. To no ordinary King of Judæa had these men, aliens from the land of Judæa, ever thought such honour due. But they had been taught that this Child was one, in worshipping whom they would certainly secure that salvation which is of God. Neither His age was such as attracts men’s flattery; His limbs not robed in purple, His brow not crowned with a diamond, no pompous train, no awful army, no glorious fame of battles, attracted these men to Him from the remotest countries, with such earnestness of supplication. There lay in a manger a Boy, newly born, of infantine size, of pitiable poverty. But in that small Infant lay hid something great, which these men, the first-fruits of the Gentiles, had learned not of earth but of heaven; as it follows, We have seen His star in the east. They announce the vision and ask, they believe and enquire, as signifying those who walk by faith and desire sight.

GREGORY. (in Evang. i. 10. n. 4.) It should be known that the Priscillianists, heretics who believe every man to be born under the aspect of some planet, cite this text in support of their error; the new star which appeared at the Lord’s birth they consider to have been his fate.

AUGUSTINE. (vid. contr. Faust. ii. 1.) And, according, to Faustus this introduction of the account of the star would lead us rather to call this part of the history, ‘The Nativity,’ than ‘The Gospel.’

GREGORY. (Sup. 2.) But far be it from the hearts of the faithful to call any thing, ‘fate.’

AUGUSTINE. (de Civ. Dei, v. 1.) For by the word ‘fate,’ in common acceptation, is meant the disposition of the stars at the moment of a person’s birth or conception; to which some assign a power independent of the will of God. These must be kept at a distance from the ears of all who desire to be worshippers of Gods of any sort. But others think the stars have this virtue committed to them by the great God; wherein they greatly wrong the skies, in that they impute to their splendent host the decreeing of crimes, such as should any earthly people decree, their city should in the judgment of mankind deserve to be utterly destroyed.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. If then any should become an adulterer or homicide through means of the planets, how great is the evil and wickedness of those stars, or rather of Him who made them? For as God knows things to come, and what evils are to spring from those stars; if He would not hinder it, He is not good; if He would but could not, He is weak. Again, if it be of the star that we are either good or bad, we have neither merit nor demerit, as being involuntary agents; and why should I be punished for sin which I have done not wilfully, but by necessity? The very commands of God against sin, and exhortations to righteousness, overthrow such folly. For where a man has not power to do, or where he has not power to forbear, who would command him either to do or to forbear?

GREGORY OF NYSSA. How vain moreover is prayer for those who live by fate; Divine Providence is banished from the world together with piety, and man is made the mere instrument of the sidereal motions. For these they say move to action, not only the bodily members, but the thoughts of the mind. In a word, they who teach this, take away all that is in us, and the very nature of a contingency; which is nothing less than to overturn all things. For where will there be free will? but that which is in us must be free.

AUGUSTINE. (de Civ. Dei, v. 6.) It cannot be said to be utterly absurd to suppose that sidereal afflatus should influence the state of the body, when we see that it is by the approach and departure of the sun that the seasons of the year are varied, and that many things, as shells and the wonderful tides of the Ocean, increase or decrease as the moon waxes or wanes. But not so, to say that the dispositions of the mind are subject to sidereal impulse. Do they say that the stars rather foreshew than effect these results? how then do they explain, that in the life of twins, in their actions, their successes, professions, honours, and all other circumstances of life, there will often be so great diversity, that men of different countries are often more alike in their lives than twins, between whose birth there was only a moment’s, and between whose conception in the womb there was not a moment’s, interval. And the small interval between their births is not enough to account for the great difference between their fates. Some give the name of fate not only to the constitution of the stars, but to all series of causes, at the same time subjecting all to the will and power of God. This sort of subjection of human affairs and fate is a confusion of language which should be corrected, for fate is strictly the constitution of the stars. The will of God we do not call ‘fate,’ unless indeed we will derive the word from ‘speaking;’ as in the Psalms, God hath spoken once, twice have I heard the same. (Ps. 62:11.) There is then no need of much contention about what is merely a verbal controversy.

AUGUSTINE. (cont. Faust. ii. 5.) But if we will not subject the nativity of any man to the influence of the stars, in order that we may vindicate the freedom of the will from any chain of necessity; how much less must we suppose sidereal influences to have ruled at His temporal birth, who is eternal Creator and Lord of the universe? The star which the Magi saw, at Christ s birth according to the flesh, did not rule His fate, but ministered as a testimony to Him. Further, this was not of the number of those stars, which from the beginning of the creation observe their paths of motion according to the law of their Maker; but a star that first appeared at the birth, ministering to the Magi who sought Christ, by going before them till it brought them to the place where the infant God the Word was. According to some astrologers such is the connexion of human fate with the stars, that on the birth of some men stars have been known to leave their courses, and go directly to the new-born. The fortune indeed of him that is born they suppose to be bound up with the course of the stars, not that the course of the stars is changed after the day of any man’s birth. If then this star were of the number of those that fulfil their courses in the heavens, how could it determine what Christ should do, when it was commanded at His birth only to leave its own course? If, as is more probable, it was first created at His birth, Christ was not therefore born because it arose, but the reverse; so that if we must have fate connected with the stars, this star did not rule Christ’s fate, but Christ the stars.

CHRYSOSTOM. The object of astrology is not to learn from the stars the fact of one’s birth; but from the hour of their nativity to forecast the fate of those that are born. But these men knew not the time of the nativity to have forecast the future from it, but the converse.

GLOSS. (interlin.) ‘His star,’ i. e. the star He created for a witness of Himself.

GLOSS. (ord.) To the Shepherds, Angels, and the Magians, a star points out Christ; to both speaks the tongue of Heaven, since the tongue of the Prophets was mute. The Angels dwell in the heavens, the stars adorn it, to both therefore the heavens declare the glory of God.

GREGORY. (Hom. in Ev. Lib. i. Hom. 10.) To the Jews who used their reason, a rational creature, i. e. an Angel, ought to preach. But the Gentiles who knew not to use their reason are brought to the knowledge of the Lord, not by words, but by signs; to the one prophecy, as to the faithful; to the other signs, as to the unbelievers. One and the same Christ is preached, when of perfect age, by Apostles; when an infant, and not yet able to speak, is announced by a star to the Gentiles; for so the order of reason required; speaking preachers proclaimed a speaking Lord, mute signs proclaimed a mute infant.

LEO. (Serm. xxxiii. 2.) Christ Himself, the expectation of the nations, that innumerable posterity once promised to the most blessed patriarch Abraham, but to be born not after the flesh, but by the Spirit; therefore likened to the stars for multitude, that from the father of all nations, not an earthly but an heavenly progeny might be looked for. Thus the heirs of that promised posterity, marked out in the stars, are roused to the faith by the rise of a new star, and where the heavens had been at first called in to witness, the aid of Heaven is continued.

CHRYSOSTOM. This was manifestly not one of the common stars of Heaven. First, because none of the stars moves in this way, from east to south, and such is the situation of Palestine with respect to Persia. Secondly, from the time of its appearance, not in the night only, but during the day. Thirdly, from its being visible and then again invisible; when they entered Jerusalem it hid itself, and then appeared again when they left Herod. Further, it had no stated motion, but when the Magi were to go on, it went before them; when to stop, it stopped like the pillar of cloud in the desert. Fourthly, it signified the Virgin’s delivery, not by being fixed aloft, but by descending to earth, shewing herein like an invisible virtue formed into the visible appearance of a star.

REMIGIUS. Some affirm this star to have been the Holy Spirit; He who descended on the baptized Lord as a dove, appearing to the Magi as a star. Others say it was an Angel, the same who appeared to the shepherds.

GLOSS. (ord.) In the east. It seems doubtful whether this refers to the place of the star, or of those that saw it; it might have risen in the east, and gone before them to Jerusalem.

AUGUSTINE. (Serm. 374. 1.) Will you ask, from whom had they learned that such an appearance as a star was to signify the birth of Christ? I answer from Angels, by the warning of some revelation. Do you ask, was it from good or ill Angels? Truly even wicked spirits, namely the dæmons, confessed Christ to be the Son of God. But why should they not have heard it from good Angels, since in this their adoration of Christ their salvation was sought, not their wickedness condemned? The Angels might say to them, ‘The Star which ye have seen is the Christ. Go ye, worship Him, where He is now born, and see how great is He that is born.’

LEO. (Serm. xxxiv. 3.) Besides that star thus seen with the bodily eye, a yet brighter ray of truth pierced their hearts; they were enlightened by the illumination of the true faith.

PSEUDO-AUGUSTINE. (Hill. Quæst. V. and N. Test. q. 63.) They might think that a king of Judæa was born, since the birth of temporal princes is sometimes attended by a star. These Chaldean Magi inspected the stars, not with malevolence, but with the true desire of knowledge; following, it may be supposed, the tradition from Balaam; so that when they saw this new and singular star, they understood it to be that of which Balaam had prophesied, as marking the birth of a King of Judæa.

LEO. (ubi sup.) What they knew and believed might have been sufficient for themselves, that they needed not to seek to see with the bodily eye, what they saw so clearly with the spiritual. But their earnestness and perseverance to see the Babe was for our profit. It profited us that Thomas, after the Lord’s resurrection, touched and felt the marks of his wounds, and so for our profit the Magians’ eyes looked on the Lord in His cradle.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. Were they then ignorant that Herod reigned in Jerusalem? Or that it is a capital treason to proclaim another King while one yet lives? But while they thought on the King to come, they feared not the king that was; while as yet they had not seen Christ, they were ready to die for Him. O blessed Magi! who before the face of a most cruel king, and before having beheld Christ, were made His confessors.

VERSES 3-6

3. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

4. And when he had gathered all the Chief Priests and Scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

5. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judæa: for thus it is written by the prophet,

6. And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

AUGUSTINE. (non occ.) As the Magi seek a Redeemer, so Herod fears a successor.

GLOSS. (ord.) The King, he is called, though in comparison with him whom they are seeking he is an alien and a foreigner.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. Herod was troubled when he heard that a King was born of Jewish lineage, lest, himself being an Idumæan, the kingdom should return again to native princes, and himself be expelled, and his seed after him. Great station is ever obnoxious to great fears, as the boughs of trees planted in high ground move when never so little wind blows, so high men are troubled with little rumours; while the lowly, like trees in the valley, remain at peace.

AUGUSTINE. (Serm. 200. 2.) If His birth as an infant makes proud kings tremble, what will His tribunal as a Judge do? Let princes fear Him sitting at the right hand of His Father, whom this impious king feared while He hanged yet on His mother’s breast.

LEO. (ubi sup.) Thou art troubled, Herod, without cause. Thy nature cannot contain Christ, nor is the Lord of the world content with the narrow bounds of thy dominion. He, whom thou wouldest not should reign in Judæa, reigns every where.

GLOSS. (ord.) Perhaps he was troubled not on his own account, but for fear of the displeasure of the Romans. They would not allow the title of King or of God to any without their permission.

GREGORY. (Hom. in Evang. i. 10.) At the birth of a King of Heaven, a king of earth is troubled; surely, earthly greatness is confounded, when heavenly greatness shews itself.

LEO. (Serm. xxxvi. 2.) Herod represents the Devil; who as he then instigated him, so now he unweariedly imitates him. For he is grieved by the calling of the Gentiles, and by the daily ruin of his power.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. Both have their own causes of jealousy, both fear a successor in their kingdom; Herod an earthly successor, the Devil a spiritual. Even Jerusalem is troubled, which should have rejoiced at that news, when a Jewish King was said to be risen up. But they were troubled, for the wicked cannot rejoice at the coming of the good. Or perhaps it was in fear that Herod should wreak his wrath against a Jewish King on his race.

GLOSS. (ord.) Jerusalem was troubled with him, as willing to favour him whom it feared; the vulgar always pay undue honour to one who tyrannizes over it. Observe the diligence of his enquiry. If he should find him, he would do to him as he shewed afterwards his disposition; if he should not, he would at least be excused to the Romans.

REMIGIUS. They are called Scribes, not from the employment of writing, but from the interpretation of the Scriptures, for they were doctors of the law. Observe, he does not enquire where Christ is born, but where He should be born; the subtle purpose of this was to see if they would shew pleasure at the birth of their King. He calls Him Christ, because he knew that the King of the Jews was anointed.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. Why does Herod make this enquiry, seeing he believed not the Scriptures? Or if he did believe, how could he hope to be able to kill Him whom the Scriptures declared should be King? The Devil instigated him, who believed that Scripture lies not; such is the faith of devils, who are not permitted to have perfect belief, even of that which they do believe. That they do believe, it is the force of truth constrains them; that they do not believe, it is that they are blinded by the enemy. If they had perfect faith, they would live as about to depart from this world soon, not as to possess it for ever.

LEO. (Serm. xxxi. 2.) The Magi, judging as men, sought in the royal city for Him, whom they had been told was born a King. But He who took the form of a servant, and came not to judge but to be judged, chose Bethlehem for His birth, Jerusalem for His death.

THEODOTUS. (Serm. 1. ap. Conc. Eph.) Had He chosen the mighty city of Rome, it might have been thought that this change of the world had been wrought by the might of her citizens; had He been the son of the emperor, his power might have aided Him. But what was His choice? All that was mean, all that was in low esteem, that in this transformation of the world, divinity might at once be recognized. Therefore He chose a poor woman for His mother, a poor country for His native country; He has no money, and this stable is His cradle.

GREGORY. (Hom. in. Evang. viii. 1.) Rightly is He born in Bethlehem, which signifies the house of bread, who said, am the living bread, who came down from heaven.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. When they should have kept secret the mystery of the King appointed of God, especially before a foreign king, straightway they became not preachers of the word of God, but revealers of His mystery. And they not only display the mystery, but cite the passage of the prophet, viz. Micah.

GLOSS. (ord.) He quotes this prophecy as they quote who give the sense and not the words.

JEROME. (Epist. 57.) The Jews are here blamed for ignorance; for whereas the prophecy says, Thou Bethlehem Ephrata; they said, ‘Bethlehem in the land of Judah.’

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. By cutting short the prophecy, they became the cause of the murder of the Innocents. For the prophecy proceeds, From thee shall go forth a King who shall feed My people Israel, and His day shall be from everlasting. Had they cited the whole prophecy, Herod would not have raged so madly, considering that it could not be an earthly King whose days were spoken of as from everlasting.

JEROME. (in Mich. v. 2.) The following is the sense of the prophecy. Thou, Bethlehem, of the land of Judah, or Ephrata, (which is added to distinguish it from another Bethlehem in Galilee,) though thou art a small village among the thousand cities of Judah, yet out of thee shall be born Christ, who shall be the Ruler of Israel, who according to the flesh is of the seed of David, but was born of Me before the worlds; and therefore it is written, His goings forth are of old. In the beginning was the Word.

GLOSS. (non occ.) This latter half of the prophecy the Jews dropped; and other parts they altered, either through ignorance, (as was said above,) or for perspicuity, that Herod who was a foreigner might better understand the prophecy; thus for Ephrata, they said, land of Judah; and for little among the thousands of Judah, which expresses its smallness contrasted with the multitude of the people, they said, not the least among the princes, willing to shew the high dignity that would come from the birth of the Prince. As if they had said, Thou art great among cities from which princes have come.

REMIGIUS. Or the sense is; though little among cities that have dominion, yet art thou not the least, for out of thee shall come the Ruler, who shall rule My people Israel; this Ruler is Christ, who rules and guides His faithful people.

CHRYSOSTOM. Observe the exactness of the prophecy; it is not He shall be in Bethlehem, but shall come out of Bethlehem; shewing that He should be only born there. What reason is there for applying this to Zorobabel, as some do? For his goings forth were not from everlasting; nor did he go forth from Bethlehem, but was born in Babylonia. The expression, art not the least, is a further proof, for none but Christ could make the town where He was born illustrious. And after that birth, there came men from the utmost ends of the earth to see the stable and manger. He calls Him not ‘the Son of God,’ but (he Ruler who shall govern My people Israel; for thus He ought to condescend at the first, that they should not be scandalized, but should preach such things as more pertained to salvation, that they might be gained. Who shall rule My people Israel, is said mystically, for those of the Jews who believed; for if Christ ruled not all the Jews, theirs is the blame. Meanwhile he is silent respecting the Gentiles, that the Jews might not be scandalized. Mark this wonderful ordinance; Jews and Magi mutually instruct each other; the Jews learn of the Magi that a star had proclaimed Christ in the east, the Magi from the Jews that the Prophets had spoken of Him of old. Thus confirmed by a twofold testimony, they would look with more ardent faith for One whom the brightness of the star and the voice of the Prophets equally proclaimed.

AUGUSTINE. (Serm. 374. 2. 373. 4.) The star that guided the Magi to the spot where was the Infant God with His Virgin Mother, might have conducted them straight to the town; but it vanished, and shewed not itself again to them till the Jews themselves had told them the place where Christ should be born; Bethlehem of Judæa. Like in this to those who built the ark for Noah, providing others with a refuge, themselves perished in the flood; or like to the stones by the road that shew the miles, but themselves are not able to move. The enquirers heard and departed; the teachers spake and remained still. Even now the Jews shew us something similar; for some Pagans, when clear passages of Scripture are shewn them, which prophesy of Christ, suspecting them to be forged by the Christians, have recourse to Jewish copies. Thus they leave the Jews to read unprofitably, and go on themselves to believe faithfully.

VERSES 7-9

7. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

8. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young Child; and when ye have found Him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship Him also.

9. When they had heard the king, they departed.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. As soon as Herod had heard the answer, though doubly authenticated, both by the authority of the Priests, and the passage from the Prophets, he yet turned not to worship the King that was to be born, but sought how he might put Him to death by subtilty. He saw that the Magi were neither to be won by flattery, nor awed by threats, nor bribed by gifts, to consent to this murder; he sought therefore to deceive them; he privily called the wise men; that the Jews, whom he suspected, might not know of it. For he thought they would incline the rather to a King of theirown nation.

REMIGIUS. Diligently enquired; craftily, for he feared they would not return to him, and then he should know how he should do to put the young Child to death.

PSEUDO-AUGUSTINE. (Serm. in App. 131. 3.) The star had been seen, and with great wonder, nearly two years before. We are to understand that it was signified to them whose the star was, which was visible all that time till He, whom it signified, was born. Then as soon as Christ was made known to them they set out, and came and worshipped Him in thirteen days from the easta.

CHRYSOSTOM. Or, the star appeared to them long time before, because the journey would take up some time, and they were to stand before Him immediately on His birth, that seeing Him in swaddling clothes, He might seem the more wonderful.

GLOSS. (non occ.) According to others, the star was first seen on the day of the nativity, and having accomplished its end, ceased to be. Thus Fulgentius says, “The Boy at His birth created a new star.” (Serm. de Epiph.) Though they now knew both time and place, he still would not have them ignorant of the person of the Child, Go, he says, and enquire diligently of the young Child; a commission they would have executed even if he had not commanded it.

CHRYSOSTOM. Concerning the young Child, he says, not ‘of the King;’ he envics Him the regal title.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. To induce them to do this, he put on the colour of devotion, beneath which he whetted the sword, hiding the malice of his heart under colour of humility. Such is the manner of the malicious, when they would hurt any one in secret, they feign meekness and affection.

GREGORY. (Hom. in Ev. i. 10. 3.) He feigns a wish of worshipping Him only that he may discover Him, and put Him to death.

REMIGIUS. The Magi obeyed the King so far as to seek the Lord, but not to return to Herod. Like in this to good hearers; the good they hear from wicked preachers, that they do; but do not imitate their evil lives.

9. And, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. This passage shews, that when the star had brought the Magi nearly to Jerusalem, it was hidden from them, and so they were compelled to ask in Jerusalem, where Christ should be born? and thus to manifest Him to them; on two accounts, first, to put to confusion the Jews, inasmuch as the Gentiles instructed only by sight of a star sought Christ through strange lands, while the Jews who had read the Prophets from their youth did not receive Him, though born in their country. Secondly, that the Priests, when asked where Christ should be born, might answer to their now condemnation, and while they instructed Herod, they were themselves ignorant of Him. The star went before them, to shew them the greatness of the King.

AUGUSTINE. To perform its due service to the Lord, it advanced slowly, leading them to the spot. It was ministering to Him, and not ruling His fate; its light shewed the suppliants and filled the inn, shed over the walls and roof that covered the birth; and thus it disappeared.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. What wonder that a divine star should minister to the Sun of righteousness about to rise. It stood over the Child’s head, as it were, saying, ‘This is He;’ proving by its place what it had no voice to utter.

GLOSS. (Anselm.) It is evident that the star must have been in the air, and close above the house where the Child was, else it would not have pointed out the exact house.

AMBROSE. (in Luc. ii. 45.) The star is the way, and the way is Christ; and according to the mystery of the incarnation, Christ is a star. He is a blazing and a morning-star. Thus where Herod is, the star is not seen; where Christ is, there it is again seen, and points out the way.

REMIGIUS. Or, the star figures the grace of God, and Herod the Devil. He, who by sin puts himself in the Devil’s power, loses that grace; but if he return by repentance, he soon finds that grace again which leaves him not till it have brought him to the young Child’s house, i. e. the Church.

GLOSS. (ord.) Or, the star is the illumination of faith, which leads him to the nearest aid; while they turn aside to the Jews, the Magi lose it; so those who seek counsel of the bad, lose the true light.

VERSES 10-11

10. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

11. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down, and worshipped Him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

GLOSS. This service of the star is followed by the rejoicing of the Magi.

REMIGIUS. And it was not enough to say, They rejoiced, but they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. They rejoiced, because their hopes were not falsified but confirmed, and because the toil of so great travel had not been undertaken in vain.

GLOSS. (ord.) He rejoices indeed who rejoices on God’s account, who is the true joy. With great joy, he says, for they had great cause.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. By the mystery of this star they understood that the dignity of the King then born exceeded the measure of all worldly kings.

REMIGIUS. He adds greatly, shewing that men rejoice more over what they have lost than over what they possess.

LEO. (Serm. in Epiph. s. 4. 3.) Though in stature a babe, needing the aid of others, unable to speak, and different in nothing from other infants, yet such faithful witnesses, shewing the unseen Divine Majesty which was in Him, ought to have proved most certainly that that was the Eternal Essence of the Son of God that had taken upon Him the true human nature.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. Mary His mother, not crowned with a diadem or laying on a golden couch; but with barely one garment, not for ornament but for covering, and that such as the wife of a carpenter when abroad might have. Had they therefore come to seek an earthly king, they would have been more confounded than rejoiced, deeming their pains thrown away. But now they looked for a heavenly King; so that though they saw nought of regal state, that star’s witness sufficed them, and their eyes rejoiced to behold a despised Boy, the Spirit shewing Him to their hearts in all His wonderful power, they fell down and worshipped, seeing the man, they acknowledged the God.

RABANUS. Joseph was absent by Divine command, that no wrong suspicions might occur to the Gentiles.

GLOSS. (Anselm.) In these offerings we observe their national customs, gold, frankincense, and various spices abounding among the Arabians; yet they intended thereby to signify something in mystery.

GREGORY. (Hom. in Evang. i. 106.) Gold, as to a King; frankincense, as sacrifice to God; myrrh, as embalming the body of the dead.

AUGUSTINE. (non occ.) Gold, as paid to a mighty King; frankincense, as offered to God; myrrh, as to one who is to die for the sins of all.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. And though it were not then understood what these several gifts mystically signified, that is no difficulty; the same grace that instigated them to the deed, ordained the whole.

REMIGIUS. And it is to be known that each did not offer a different gift, but each one the three things, each one thus proclaiming the King, the God, and the man.

CHRYSOSTOM. Let Marcion and Paul of Samosata then blush, who will not see what the Magi saw, those progenitors of the Church adoring God in the flesh. That He was truly in the flesh, the swaddling clothes and the stall prove; yet that they worshipped Him not as mere man, but as God, the gifts prove which it was becoming to offer to a God. Let the Jews also be ashamed, seeing the Magi coming before them, and themselves not even earnest to tread in their path.

GREGORY. (ubi sup.) Something further may yet be meant here. Wisdom is typified by gold; as Solomon saith in the Proverbs, A treasure to be desired is in the mouth of the wise. (Prov. 21:20.) By frankincense, which is burnt before God, the power of prayer is intended, as in the Psalms, Let my speech come before thee as incense. (Ps. 141:2.) In myrrh is figured mortification of the flesh. To a king at his birth we offer gold, if we shine in his sight with the light of wisdom; we offer frankincense, if we have power before God by the sweet savour of our prayers; we offer myrrh, when we mortify by abstinence the lusts of the flesh.

GLOSS. (Anselm.) The three men who offer, signify the nations who come from the three quarters of the earth. They open their treasures, i. e. manifest the faith of their hearts by confession. Rightly in the house, teaching that we should not vain-gloriously display the treasure of a good conscience. They bring three (vid. sup. note g, p. 18.) gifts, i. e. the faith in the Holy Trinity. Or opening the stores of Scripture, they offer its threefold sense, historical, moral, and allegorical; or Logic, Physic, and Ethics, making them all serve the faith.

VERSE 12

12. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

AUGUSTINE. (non occ.) The wicked Herod, now made cruel by fear, will needs do a deed of horror. But how could he ensnare him who had come to cut off all fraud? His fraud is escaped as it follows, And being warned.

JEROME. They had offered gifts to the Lord, and receive a warning corresponding to it. This warning (in the Greek ‘having received a response’) is given not by an Angel, but by the Lord Himself, to shew the high privilege granted to the merit of Joseph.

GLOSS. (ord.) This warning is given by the Lord Himself; it is none other that now teaches these Magi the way they should return, but He who said, I am the way. (John 14.) Not that the Infant actually speaks to them, that His divinity may not be revealed before the time, and His human nature may be thought real. But he says, having received an answer, for as Moses prayed silently, so they with pious spirit had asked what the Divine will bade. By another way, for they were not to be mixed up with the unbelieving Jews.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. viii.) See the faith of the Magi; they were not offended, nor said within themselves, What need now of flight? or of secret return, if this Boy be really some great one? Such is true faith; it asks not the reason of any command, but obeys.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. Had the Magi sought Christ as an earthly King, they would have remained with Him when they had found Him; but they only worship, and go their way. After their return, they continued in the worship of God more stedfast than before, and taught many by their preaching. And when afterwards Thomas reached their country, they joined themselves to him, and were baptized, and did according to his preachingb.

GREGORY. (Hom. in Ev. i. 10. 7.) We may learn much from this return of the Magi another way. Our country is Paradise, to which, after we have come to the knowledge of Christ we are forbidden to return the way we came. We have left this country by pride, disobedience, following things of sight, tasting forbidden food; and we must return to it by repentance, obedience, by contemning things of sight, and overcoming carnal appetite.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. It was impossible that they, who left Herod to go to Christ, should return to Herod. They who have by sin left Christ and passed to the devil, often return to Christ; for the innocent, who knows not what is evil, is easily deceived, but having once tasted the evil he has taken up, and remembering the good he has left, he returns in penitence to God. He who has forsaken the devil and come to Christ, hardly returns to the devil; for rejoicing in the good he has found, and remembering the evil he has escaped, with difficulty returns to that evil.

SOURCE: eCatholic 2000Commentary in public domain.