The Feast of the Epiphany
Today’s celebration is commonly known as the feast of the Three Kings. An interesting observation is that the scriptural text says nothing about the number three. Likewise, the text makes no mention that they are kings. In addition, there is nothing about the racial make-up of the group. These are all additions of various cultural expressions developed centuries after the event.
Perhaps these additions have helped us understand the Gospel message of the feast which is that all peoples are invited to the heavenly banquet.
The history of the process, in which Christ’s message has been passed on over the centuries, has always been deeply ingrained with cultural and folkloric expressions. Often, additions have been enlightening and liberating to the basic message of salvation. On the other hand, the message has been deeply distorted with the overlay of pietistic exaggerations and even contradictions rooted in national and cultural prejudices.
One of the major hopes of Vatican II was to get us back to the central Gospel message set free of all historical and cultural biases. One of the most important developments of that holy gathering occurred a decade later when Pope Paul VI gave us one of the all time great papal documents. It was on the topic of Evangelization.
Paul VI pointed out that the message of the Gospel is never free of cultural expressions but that we have to work to always go beyond any particular cultural, national or racial expression that limits the Gospel. Whether it is the St. Patrick’s Day Parade or the celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe or theCristo Negro de Esquipulas, they all have a pull to limit the Gospel to one group or nation. Today’s feast of the Epiphany calls us beyond so we include everyone. This is no small challenge, no easy task.
Today’s Gospel story of the Magi is much more than a lovely account about strange visitors coming in a peculiar way to a poor family. This is a story of Good News that tells us that this child is the long awaited Son of David, the promised ruler and savior of Israel. He will open the gift of salvation to all people. All are welcome at the table. There are no strangers at the crib!
In today’s world, the gross injustice of poverty comes in good part from the unequal distribution of income. This, in turn, has led has to an unprecedented world-wide crisis of immigration.
The story of the Wise Men has two simple but essential messages for us. We need to share the gifts. This includes personal, familial, communal and national efforts to erase poverty. We need to welcome everybody. Today’s Gospel story tells us to build bridges not walls. If we do these things, we all will be richer for it.