By: Msgr. Stuart Swetland
Epiphany of the Lord, Jan. 3
Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-2,7-8,10-11,12-13; Ephesians 3:2-3a,5-6; Matthew 2:1-12
VERY OFTEN our Sunday readings are selected so as to emphasize the “prophecy-fulfillment” mode of reading sacred Scripture. This means that the first reading from the Old Testament is seen to be fulfilled in the proclamation of the Gospel of the day. The way that St. Augustine taught this approach to reading the Scriptures was “the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old is fulfilled in the New” (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 129).
There is little doubt that those responsible for the lectionary wish us to see Isaiah 60:1-6 as a foreshadowing of the events we celebrate in the Feast of the Epiphany and that are recorded in Matthew 2:1-12. The “wealth of the nations” — gold and frankincense (no mention of myrrh in Isaiah) are brought from afar by “caravans of camels” bearing wise men who seek the “light,” “the splendor,” “the glory of the Lord,” shining rom “Jerusalem.”
In addition to the first reading, the Psalm (Psalm 72) also foreshadows the Gospel. The Gentile kings (magi) shall offer “gifts,” “tribute,” and “homage” and “all nations shall serve him.”
THIS IS, of course, an acceptable way to read the Old Testament. But the Catechism reminds us that the Old Testament has its “own intrinsic value.” It is worth quoting the Catechism (CCC 129) on this teaching: “Christians . . . read the Old Testament in the light of Christ crucified and risen. Such typological reading discloses the inexhaustible content of the Old Testament; but it must not make us forget that the Old Testament retains its own intrinsic value as revelation reaffirmed by our Lord himself” (cf. Mark 12:29-31).
If we always emphasize the parts of an Old Testament passage that we see fulfilled in the New, we may lose sight of some other key insights or teaching that the verses contain for us. Take today for example. In Isaiah 60:1-6, the prophet is depicting the New Jerusalem that the prophet takes as “a symbol of God’s holy people” (“Commentary on the Readings of the Lectionary,” Robert Crotty, CP, and Gregory Manly, CP, p. 52). This New Jerusalem will be a place and a time of fulfillment because “the glory of the Lord shines upon you.”
This glory is, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia a “manifestation of the Divine Majesty.” God is making himself known by shining upon the New Jerusalem that thus becomes radiant with God’s glory. It can become what it was meant to be, a “light unto the Nations” and a place for all peoples to gather.
THIS MANIFESTATION of God’s glory is meant to transform God’s holy people. They will become “radiant.” Their “hearts shall throb and overflow.”
In Psalm 72, the psalmist states that “justice shall flower” and there will be “profound peace.” A king will be raised up who shall “rescue the poor when he cries out and the afflicted when he has no one to help him. He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor; the lives of the poor he shall save.”
Of course that king is Jesus Christ, whom magi come to adore in today’s Gospel. But while he is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, our King has given us a share in his kingly, priestly and prophetic office. We, you and I, carry on his mission. We rule in his place as priests, prophets and kings. In other words, we must continue the mission of Jesus Christ. That is what the name “Christian” implies.
Thus we should be rescuing the lives of the poor. The lowly and the forsaken should be receiving our pity (compassion and mercy). We should be hearing the cries of those who have no one else to help them. Those cries should move us to tears and to action. Our hearts should throb and overflow and we should be radiant, reflecting the presence of God in our hearts.
AS ST. PAUL reminds us in today’s second reading, all nations (all people) are coheirs and copartners with us in the promises of Christ Jesus (cf. Ephesians 3:2-6). In a particular way, those who are in the darkness need to see reflected in our merciful love and service the glory of God made manifest in us and radiated out into a world in need.
Today, as we celebrate the manifestation of God’s glory in Jesus Christ to the magi of old, we know that wise men still seek him. But the wise also know that we seek him not just for ourselves but so we can serve him by serving those around us, especially those most in need. For as Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount: “Let your light so shine before men, that they might see your good works, and glorify your father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
A priest of the Diocese of Peoria, Msgr. Stuart Swetland is the Most Rev. Harry J. Flynn Professor of Christian Ethics at Mount St. Mary University in Emmitsburg, Md.