First Reading: Is 60:1-6; Psalm: 72. R. v. 11; Second Reading: Eph 3:2-3a.5-6; Gospel: Mt 2:1-12
THE WISE BRAVE MEN
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
Today, the Church celebrates the solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord. Epiphany is from the Greek word epiphaneia, meaning ‘manifestation’ or ‘revelation.’ It celebrates the revelation or manifestation of the Christ child to the Gentile world. This manifestation according to the gospel account of today started with the appearing of a star in the East. This star necessitated the journey of the Wise Men to Jerusalem to worship the new born king. Today, we have come to numerically identify these Wise Men as “Three Wise Men.” However, the scriptures never disclosed how many they are but only identified them as ‘Wise Men’ from the East. The common idea that they are three is deduced from their three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
But why were these men from the East considered wise? Apparently, they were called “wise” because of their astrology and skills in interpreting dreams and celestial bodies. Men who interpret signs like this are often called “wise men” in the scriptures (Dan 2:27; 5:18). But from the gospel narrative of today, these Wise Men made decisions which seemingly are rather not wise but naïve and superstitious. But on a second look, perhaps they were wise to have made such decisions. After all, wisdom is not without some spots of wrong judgement.
The first supposed unwise decision of these men from the East was their resolution to embark on a long journey from Persia to Jerusalem based on the sign of a star. What if they were wrong about the meaning of this star? What if the star meant something completely different from what they assumed? Luke’s narrative at least carries more certainty. The shepherds’ (not the Wise Men as in Matthew’s gospel) visit to the new born king was occasioned by an angel’s message (Lk 2:9-14). So the shepherds were certain about the reason for their journey. But in our contemporary time, it sounds so absurd to embark on a journey of about 1,200 miles (two to three months journey on a donkey) based on the revelation of a star. Thank goodness, their interpretation was right.
When they got to Jerusalem, they were lost regarding the whereabouts of the new born king. Now, two things are involved here regarding their next decision. They either get it right or they could be in deep trouble and things could get worse. As Benedict XVI points out, they initially went to Herod’s palace in Jerusalem – the natural place to find a newborn prince (Jesus of Nazareth: The infancy Narrative). The idea was that Herod the Great or one of his sons had had a baby boy who would grow up to be king. This was a risk. If their guess is right, things would be fine. But if they are wrong, they could be charged as complicit in the act of treason. Herod the Great was a very jealous and brutal king. He was notorious and cruel. He killed over half of his ten wives, some of his children and many people of standing. This was the kind of king before whom these Wise Men are hoping to try their luck. Was this a wise decision? Could they not have tried other possible options knowing the risk involved?
At the end of the day their guess was wrong. The good news was that they were not apprehended for any treasonable offense but were given further direction on how to get to the child. Perhaps, Herod let them go because they will serve as a means to get to the new born king whom he saw as a threat to his throne. But the bad news was that Herod the king started his evil plans to kill the Christ child. And this would lead to the death of many innocent babies. But should we blame this on the decision of the Wise Men? Unless we do not understand their mission.
The primary mission of the Wise men was not basically to visit the new born king and to offer their gifts in worship. It was to announce to the world that the Saviour king is born. This is what today’s celebration is all about. So the stop of the Wise Men at Herod’s palace was really not by chance. There was no better place to make the news public than through the palace. And as divine will would have it, the chief priests and scribes got involved making the news go viral. Herod’s evil reaction to this news cannot be blamed on anyone. We cannot control how people react to news of any kind. Herod was only exhibiting his wicked personality. These Wise Men were men of belief, determination and courage.
To what extent can we go in witnessing to our faith in Christ Jesus? God’s love for us is boundless. His saving grace reaches out to all people. We all matter to God, Jews and Gentiles, man and woman, rich and poor, saints and sinners, slave and free. God’s choice of the Wise Men from the pagan world to announce the birth of the Saviour king to the chosen people of Israel explains it all. God does not discriminate. His love is boundless. Likewise, as children of God, witnessing to our faith in Christ Jesus should know no boundaries. Just like the Wise Men, we can break boundaries to shine the light of Christ in the hearts of people from other race and colour.
The journey of the Wise Men to visit the new born king was a tough one especially when the star was not found to guide them. There is that moment in life when we get lost. That moment we are not sure if the path we are going is the right path; if your fiancé is the right man for you; if getting married is what you really want; if staying married will make you happy; if becoming priest/nun is your true vocation; if remaining priest/nun is what you can cope with for the rest of your life; or if the job you are doing gives you fulfilment. It could even be moments of sickness, bereavement or job loss that we begin to wonder if keeping faith in God is worth it. In low moments like this, a little faith and patience could clear our fears and doubt. Remember, the star did not disappear for too long. It appeared again and gave the Wise Men the reason to go on. Our reasons to hold on and go on are often behind our faith challenges. In living our faith as Christians, challenges will get in the way; but we must face them with faith, patience and courage.
The decision of the Wise Men to go to King Herod with the news of a new born king was brave. The risk involved did not deter them. One of the greatest challenges in our world today is being real and honest in speaking to those in authority. Only a few do this. But this is our mission as Christians: to witness to the truth of the gospel before everyone without fear or favour. We must be brave to speak truth to power, to parents, siblings, friends and co-workers. Responses to truth may not always go down well; but regardless, we must speak the truth constructively.
Just like the Wise Men, we all journeyed from our homes today to the Church to worship the new born king with the gift of ourselves. As we depart at the end of this Mass, do not forget the instruction of the angel to the Wise Men not to return to Herod but to depart by another way. The path to Herod is the path to sin and destruction; to jealousy and greed. So, we must take a new path to our homes at the end of this Mass; the path to holiness, faith, patience, truth and courage.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Christ our new born King, increase our faith in you that amidst the challenges of life that get in the way of our faith; we may remain ever faithful to you. Amen.