Gospel for Wednesday, January 6: Matthew 2: 1-12
Epiphany of the Lord
1Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea at the time of King Herod. Some Magi came from the east to Jerusalem and asked:
2“Where is the King of the Jews who was born? We have seen his star rise, and we have come to worship him.” 3Upon hearing these words, King Herod was disturbed and with him all of Jerusalem. 4Gathering all the high priests and scribes of the people, he inquired from them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They answered him: “To Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written through the prophet: 6And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are not really the smallest chief town of Judah: for out of you shall come forth a leader who shall shepherd my people Israel.” 7Then Herod secretly called the Magi and had them tell him exactly the time when the star had appeared 8and sent them to Bethlehem exhorting them: “Go and inquire thoroughly about the child, and when you have found him, let me know, so that I may also come and worship him.” 9Hearing the king’s words, they departed. And behold, the star, which they had seen in its rising, went before them, until it came and stood over the place where the child was. 10Upon seeing the star, they experienced great joy. 11As they entered the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and prostrating themselves they worshipped him. Then they opened their chests and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12Warned then in a dream not to return to Herod, by another route 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.
The second prophecy of Matthew
The first of the five biblical quotations that Matthew recalls in the Gospels of Jesus’ infancy is placed at the conclusion of the angelic annunciation to Joseph, invited “not to be afraid to take Mary with him, because what is generated in her comes from the Holy Spirit” (1, 20): “Behold, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son” (1,23; cf. Is 7,14).
The second prophecy cited by Matthew in his “Infancy Gospel of Jesus” (chaps. 1-2) is this time put into the mouths of the same “chief priests and scribes of the people”: “And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, you are not truly the smallest capital of Judah: for from you will come a leader who will shepherd my people Israel” (Mt 2.6; Mi 5.1-2). This prophecy resonates in Herod’s palaces, before the Magi who came from the East to Jerusalem with the question: “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?”. The answer is drawn from the prophetic book of a contemporary and perhaps disciple of Isaiah, the farmer Micah from the village of Moresheth, 35 kilometers south-west of Jerusalem. Passionate and very harsh preacher against the corruption of politicians and the high clergy of his time (“They devour the flesh of my people and tear the skin from them, break their bones and tear them to pieces like meat in a pot, as boiled in a boiler” Mi 3,3), Micah opens the horizon at the end to a light of messianic tonality. From Bethlehem, a small village but homeland of David, a woman giving birth will give birth to a new David, king of peace and joy, source of cosmic harmony. Here is the passage that offers numerous variations, microscopic compared to Matthew’s quote, although coinciding in substance: “And you, Bethlehem of Ephratah, so small to be among the clans of Judah, from you will come to me a guide of Israel… God will put them in the hands of others until she who is to give birth gives birth” (5.1-2). 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 awaited Messiah. Also in the Gospel of John the crowd observes that “the Scripture says that the Christ (Messiah) will come from the lineage of David and from Bethlehem, the village of David” (Jn 7.42).
By placing Micah’s announcement in the mouths of Christ’s direct adversaries, Matthew underlines that they are able to understand the Scriptures but cannot decide to believe in them, they know them but do not “recognize” them as a message open to the fullness that is now is implementing. On the other hand, the entire story of the Magi is an embroidery of allusions to the Old Testament: from the light that rises over Jerusalem, and which makes “the peoples and kings walk to the splendor of its rising”, to the “gold and incense” offered by those who come from Sheba (Isaiah, 60, 3.6), at the passage of Psalm 72 on the “kings of Tarshish and of the islands, of the Arabs and of Sheba who bring offerings and tributes” to the messianic king…
The adoration of the Magi
“It is interesting to discover the presence that Matthew (Mt 2,1-12) places around the baby Jesus. First of all it is necessary to underline that the scenography is completely different from that of Luke and this also attests to the diversity of the traditions that are the basis of the two stories and their quality is often more theological than historical. Now the holy family is represented in a sort of throne room which is almost accessed by a foreign delegation on a courtesy visit. In fact, the chancelleries, the clergy of Jerusalem, the entire city are agitated for Matthew. An “international” event is about to take place and its protagonists are some mysterious Magi “who came from the East” (Ravasi). These “màgoi” are astrologers, who scrutinize the signs of the sky. Herodotus, an ancient writer, states that the “Magi” constituted one of the six tribes of the Medes in Iran, a priestly caste.
The arrival of the Magi, guided by the star, which leads them to Bethlehem, is the sign that Jesus fulfills the ancient promises (Mi 5,1): “the birth in the village of Judea, more than a historical fact, secondary in itself, is a theological fact” (O. da Spinetoli). The ancients believed that a star lit up at the birth of a man. Israel awaited the Messiah like a star: “A star rises from Jacob and a scepter rises from Israel” (Nm 24,17).
The fulfillment of the Scriptures is accompanied by judgment on Israel: those far away welcome the Messiah and those near reject him. The story of the discussion between the Magi and Herod “and with him all Jerusalem…, 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.
The whole Gospel of Matthew is marked by this surprise: just think of the parable of the murderous tenants (Mt 21,33ff.) or the parable of the great supper (Mt 22, 1-14): both show that the Kingdom passes from Israel to the pagans , and that this passage is part of God’s plan. We spoke of surprise, but this does not mean anything new in God’s behavior, much less a break in his way of conducting history. On the contrary: God simply applies in this case too, as always, the principle of welcoming the Word, which is a decisive criterion: it is the welcoming of the Word (with the availability for conversion), which distinguishes those who belong to the Kingdom and who doesn’t.
But in this episode there is not only the meaning of Christ, but also that of the Church. The page of the Magi is a solemn declaration of missionary spirit and universalism. This episode recalls the conclusion of the entire Gospel: “Go and make all nations my disciples…” (Mt 28:18). Two missionary pages that open and close the story of Christ, with a difference: in the episode of the Magi they are the people who arrive in Jerusalem, at the end of the gospel it is the Church sent to the world. This second note more profoundly expresses the conception of mission as service, as going out of oneself to go in search of others.
Matthew does not say that the Magi were kings, nor that there are three of them. They carry gold, frankincense and myrrh: Giovenco, the first Christian Latin poet. he will say: “to the king, to God, to man”. They are the gifts for the Messiah: “May he live and be given the gold of Sheba” (Ps 72,15); “All will come from Sheba, bringing gold and incense” (Is 60.6).
“Two coordinates allow us to identify the Messiah: the star and the 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).
Happy Mercy to all!
Anyone who would like to read a more complete exegesis of the text, or some insights, please ask me at firstname.lastname@example.org.