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Gospel for Saturday, January 06: Matthew 2:1-12

Epiphany of the Lord

1Born Jesus in Bethlehem of Judea, in the time of King Herod, behold, some Magi came from the east to Jerusalem 2and said, “Where is he who is born, the King of the Jews? We saw his star come out and came to worship him.” 3On hearing this, King Herod was disturbed, and with him all Jerusalem. 4Gathering all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired from them where the Christ was to be born. 5They answered him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written through the prophet, 6And you, Bethlehem, the land of Judah, are not indeed the least of the principal cities of Judah: for out of you shall come forth a leader who shall be the shepherd of my people Israel.” 7Then Herod, having called the Magi secretly, made them tell him exactly the time when the star had appeared 8and sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and inquire carefully about the child, and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may come and worship him.” 9Hearing the king, they departed. And behold, the star, which they had seen coming up, went ahead of them, until it came and stood over the place where the child was. 10At seeing the star, they experienced great joy. 11Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they prostrated themselves and worshipped him. Then they opened their chests and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12Warning in a dream not to return to Herod, by another road they returned to their country.

Mt 2:1-12

Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Misericordie, I am Carlo Miglietta, doctor, biblical scholar, layman, husband, father and grandfather (www.buonabibbiaatutti.it). Also today I share with you a short meditation thought on the Gospel, with special reference to the theme of mercy.

On Epiphany Day the church offers us Matthew chapter 2, a chapter that must be well understood to grasp its richness of revelation.

The text

Let us examine the text:

v. 1: -Born Jesus in Bethlehem of Judea, in the time of King Herod: Herod Antipas (Herodes Antipatros: 20 B.C.-after 39) was the son of Herod the Great and his fourth wife, the Samaritan woman Maltash. He was tetrarch of Galilee and Perea from 4 B.C. to 39 A.D. Herod, like his father, was an illegitimate king because he was an Idumean, so he was not Jewish. He was so afraid that someone would take his throne that he went so far as to kill his own sons.

– Behold: In the Gospels “behold” introduces something unexpected, something exceptional.

– Magi (“màgoi”): These “màgoi” are astrologers, who scrutinize the signs in the sky. Herodotus, an ancient writer, states that the “Magi” constituted one of the six tribes of the Medes in Iran, a priestly caste. But the term magician at that time also meant deceivers and charlatans: their activity was strictly forbidden in the Bible (Lev. 19:26; Acts 8:9-24) and forbidden to the Jews: “Whoever learns anything from a magician deserves death” (Shab. b. 75a). In the earliest Christian catechism, the Didache, magician activity was placed between the prohibition against stealing and the prohibition against abortion.

– They came from the east: In each case they were pagans, and therefore considered far from God. But God’s saving Love reaches everyone, from all peoples and nations.

– in Jerusalem: In the holy city they contrasted Herod, the illegitimate king of the Jews, with Jesus, the King of the Jews and of the universe.

v. 2: – We saw its star rise: The ancients believed that a star lit when a man was born. Israel awaited the Messiah like a star: the star evokes the messianic oracle of the magician Balaam, whose story is narrated in the biblical book of Numbers: “A star rises from Jacob, a sceptre rises from Israel” (Nm 24:17). On the longest night of the year we celebrate the memory of Him who said: “I am the root and seed of David, the bright morning star” (Rev 22:16).

v. 3: – Hearing this, King Herod was troubled and with him all of Jerusalem: There is a judgment on Israel: those who are distant welcome the Messiah and those who are close reject him.

v. 4: – all the chief priests and the scribes of the people: The story of the discussion between the Magi and Herod “and all Jerusalem with him…, all the chief priests and the scribes of the people” (Mt 2:3-4) is a prefiguration of the trial of Jesus. The story of the Magi illustrates the theme of Christ sought and rejected: the Messiah is the sign of contradiction.

v. 5: – In Bethlehem of Judea because it is so written through the prophet: The place where the Messiah was to be born is sought in the prophetic book of a contemporary and perhaps disciple of Isaiah, the peasant Micah of the village of Moreset, 35 kilometers southwest of Jerusalem. A passionate preacher, he was a very hard prophet against the corruption of the politicians and high clergy of his time (Mi 3,3). But it also announces the hope of the coming of the Messiah. Here is the passage that offers numerous variations, microscopic compared to the quote of Matthew, while coinciding in substance: “And you, Bethlehem of Ephrath, so small to be among the clans of Judah, from you I will come out a guide of Israel… God will put them in the power of others until the one who has to give birth gives birth” (Mi 5,1-2). From Bethlehem, a small village but the homeland of David, a woman born will give birth to a new David, king of peace and joy, source of cosmic harmony. Matthew represents Christ as the perfect “son of David”, who, being born in the same village as the great king of Israel, reveals himself to the people of God as the expected Messiah. Also in the Gospel of John the crowd observes that “Scripture says that Christ (Messiah) will come from the lineage of David and from Bethlehem, the village of David” (Jn 7:42). Placing in the mouth of Christ’s direct opponents the announcement of Micah, Matthew stresses that they are able to understand the Scriptures but they do not decide to believe in them, they know them but do not “recognize” them as a message open to the fullness that is now being implemented.

v. 8: – And he sent them to Bethlehem: Power is lying and violent. Power is murderous.

v. 9: – And behold, the star, which they had seen sprout, preceded them: The believer often experiences the silence of God, the darkness in his search for Him. But then God, who in reality has always been close to us even when we did not see him, returns to show himself with all his splendor, and to “precede” us, to trace our path.

v. 10: – When they saw the star, they felt a great joy: At the birth of Christ the angel announced to the shepherds “a great joy” (Lk 2:10). When the Magi see again the star that leads them to Christ, they “experience a great joy” (Mt 2:10).

v. 11: – they offered him as a gift gold, incense and myrrh: The gifts of the Magi are symbolic: they offer gold, symbol of kingship; they offer incense: the offering of incense was reserved for priests, but now in Christ all humanity becomes a priestly people (1 Pt 2:9); they offer myrrh, which was the perfume of the bride in the Song of Songs (Ct 4,6; 5,1.6) and in the Book of Esther (East 2,2), but which will also be the drink offered to Jesus on the cross (Mk 15,3) and the ointment with which the corpse of Jesus will be embalmed (Jn 19,39).

v. 12: – Warned in a dream: In Hebrew the dream is called chalòn, also synonymous with corroborating, restoring, strengthening, and recurs sixty times in the Old Testament. In the New Testament the Greek word by dream, onar, appears only seven times. The dream takes place during the tardemah, the ecstatic and deep sleep, which often in the Bible is just the way to express a supernatural intervention (cf Gen 2:21; 15:12; 20:3; 26:24; 28:10-22; 31:24; 1 Kings 3:5; Gb 33:15; Mt 1:20; 2:12-13:19:22). Sometimes the dream is a way in which God reveals himself. While in the modern psychoanalytic conception the dream refers above all to the past, in the Bible the dream is often prediction, promise, prophecy, revelation. Scripture therefore presents us with true “revealing dreams”. 35 have been counted for the Old Testament (Gen 15,12-16; 20,3; 28,12; 31,10-13.24; 37,5-7.9; 40,8-9; 41,1-3; Nm 12,6; Jude 7,13-14; 1 Kings 3,4- 15; Gb 7,14; 33,14-15; Dn 2; 7; 2 Mac 33,11…) and 9 in the New, including 5 in Matthew concerning the infancy of Jesus (Mt 1,20; 2,12.13; 27, 19; Acts 16,9-10; 18,9; 23,11…).

The Universality of Revelation

The Feast of the Epiphany announces the revelation of the Messiah to the people. The word “Epiphany” means “manifestation”: Jesus reveals himself to the nations. The page of the Magi is a solemn declaration of mission and universalism. This episode, placed at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, recalls the conclusion of the same Gospel: “Go and make all peoples my disciples…” (Mt 28:18).

The Scriptures reveal to us the Christ

“Knowledge of Scripture is no guarantee of knowledge of the Lord. A knowledge that does not translate into life is sterile, it is harmful, as in this case” (A. Maggi). But “two coordinates allow to identify the Messiah: the star and Scripture. The star that represents the signs of the times, the occasions of history and also, more banally, the cases of life… But the verification of Scripture is also necessary” (A. Mello).

The wonder of adoration

Pope Francis exhorts us: “Brothers, sisters, let us open our hearts to unrest, let us ask for the courage to go forward and let us end in adoration! We are not afraid, it is the path of the Magi, it is the path of all the saints of history: to receive the anxieties, to set out and to adore. Brothers and sisters, let us not let the restlessness of questions be extinguished in us; let us not stop our journey by yielding to apathy or comfort; and, in meeting the Lord, let us yield to the wonder of adoration. Then we will discover that a light illuminates even the darkest nights: it is Jesus, it is the radiant star of the morning, the sun of justice, the merciful effulgence of God, who loves every man and every people of the earth”.

Happy Mercy to all!

Anyone who would like to read a more complete exegesis of the text, or some insights, please ask me at migliettacarlo@gmail.com.

Source

Spazio Spadoni

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