Taste and See: Good news for everyone

Magi Vatican MuseumIIThe Gospel reading yesterday – the second Sunday of Christmas, and the feast of the Epiphany – came from Matthew and tells of the wise men’s search for, and finding, of the infant king of the Jews.

After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east. ‘Where is the infant king of the Jews?’ they asked. ‘We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.’

When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born. ‘At Bethlehem in Judaea,’ they told him ‘for this is what the prophet wrote:

And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
you are by no means least among the leaders of Judah,
for out of you will come a leader
who will shepherd my people Israel.’

Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared, and sent them on to Bethlehem. ‘Go and find out all about the child,’ he said ‘and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.’ Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward, and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.

Matthew 2:1-12

It told of wise men, number unspecified, and not kings. Later tellings of the Christmas story are rather more specific! ‘Was surely three of them, and definitely they were kings!’

In nativity plays – perhaps for reasons of casting, perhaps for gender inclusivity there are wise women with the wise men, or queens with the kings.

Earlier times than ours also played fast and loose with the Bible narrative, and did so with theological purpose. In renaissance paintings it became common for the wise men to be depicted as kings and three, but one was old, one notably young, and the other middle aged; and one was African, one Asian, one European (from the three continents known in more ancient times).

In their diversity and their all-encompassing qualities these three men were presented in a way that allowed them to represent each and everyone from ‘the nations’. Their image reminded, taught, that the good news of the Incarnation and the mercy of God was for all of us, i.e. including those we think of as ‘them’ too.

  • Who do we exclude from our world view, from ‘us’?
  • How – with God’s grace – might we reach out to them, and with them grow in grace?

 

Detail showing the  wise men from the East. Vatican Museum. (c) 2010, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: open our hearts

Wise man, Notre DameThe responsorial psalm for Mass tomorrow, the feast of the Epiphany, identifies the wise men of Matthew’s Gospel with all the nations,, and associates us with all those nations.

All nations shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord.

O God, give your judgement to the king,
to a king’s son your justice,
that he may judge your people in justice
and your poor in right judgement.

All nations shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord.

In his days justice shall flourish
and peace till the moon fails.
He shall rule from sea to sea,
from the Great River to earth’s bounds.

All nations shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord.

The kings of Tarshish and the sea coasts
shall pay him tribute.
The kings of Sheba and Seba
shall bring him gifts.
Before him all kings shall fall prostrate,
all nations shall serve him.

All nations shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord.

For he shall save the poor when they cry
and the needy who are helpless.
He will have pity on the weak
and save the lives of the poor.

All nations shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord.

Psalm 71:1-2,7-8,10-13

The nations came in and as the wise men to the stable of Bethlehem; we of the nations come before the Lord in all sorts of ways. Perhaps most evidently and regularly we come before him in the Mass, where he is present for us in the assembly assembled and active in prayer and song; in the word proclaimed and listened to; in the ministry of the priest in its various aspects; and in the Eucharist, bread and wine transformed into Christ’s Body and Blood, offered, received, eaten, drunk, adored.

Were we all to fall prostrate before the Lord at Mass, progressing in its action would be somewhat difficult. But that sort of honour and respect is what we need to approach in order to be properly receptive and properly engaged in what the Mass is and what the Mass is for.

A contemplative Wise Man. Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. (c) 2006.

Speak Lord: that we might find you.

Arles Nativity

The Gospel reading for Sunday – the second Sunday of Christmas, and the feast of the Epiphany – comes from Matthew and tells of the wise men’s search for, and finding, of the infant king of the Jews.

After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east. ‘Where is the infant king of the Jews?’ they asked. ‘We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.’

When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born. ‘At Bethlehem in Judaea,’ they told him ‘for this is what the prophet wrote:

And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
you are by no means least among the leaders of Judah,
for out of you will come a leader
who will shepherd my people Israel.’

Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared, and sent them on to Bethlehem. ‘Go and find out all about the child,’ he said ‘and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.’ Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward, and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.

Matthew 2:1-12

Wise men travelled from the East, following a star, to know and honour Jesus.

  • What helps lead us closer to him?
  • What helps us to know him?

Detail showing the Nativity and wise men from Sarcophagus in collection of the Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence antiques. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.