This Sunday's Gospel

Exegetical notes and homily themes to get you started this weekend:

11/1/2017 – All Saints (Wednesday)
11/5/2017 – Sunday 31 / Pentecost 22
11/12/2017 – Sunday 32 / Pentecost 23
11/19/2017 – Sunday 33 / Pentecost 24
11/26/2017 – Christ the King / Last Sunday after Pentecost

12/3/2017 – Advent 1
12/10/2017 – Advent 2
12/17/2017 – Advent 3
12/24/2017 – Advent 4

12/25/2017 – Christmas (Monday)
12/31/2017 – Holy Family
12/31/2017 – Sunday after Christmas

1/1/2018 – Mary the Mother of God (Monday)
1/7/2018 – Epiphany

November 1 – Solemnity of All Saints [ABC]

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven . . .”
Matthew 5: 1-12


Today’s Gospel is the beautiful “Beatitudes” reading from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew’s compilation of the sayings and teachings of Jesus. The word “blessed,” as used by Jesus in the eight maxims, was written in Greek as makarios, a word which indicates a joy that is God-like in its serenity and totality.

Specific Greek words used throughout the text indicate several important meanings:
‘The poor in spirit:’ those who are detached from material things, who put their trust in God.
“The sorrowing:”  this Beatitude speaks of the value of caring and compassion -- the hallmarks of Jesus’ teaching.
“The lowly:” the Greek word used here is praotes -- true humility that banishes all pride; the “blessed” who accept the necessity to learn and grow and realize their need to be forgiven.
“They who show mercy:” the Greek word chesedh used here indicates the ability to get “inside a person's a skin” until we can see things from his/her perspective, consider things from his/her experience mind and feel his/her joys and sorrows.
“The peacemakers:” peace is not merely the absence of trouble or discord but peace is a positive condition: it is everything that provides and makes for humanity’s highest good; note, too, that the “blessed” are described as peace-makers and not simply peace-lovers.


Today we celebrate the feast of all the saints — not just the “official” saints we have read about and revere in the liturgical calendar, but the saints and martyrs we have known and who have lived among us, the “blessed” of the Gospel through whom God touches us and our world. 

All Saints is the festival in honor of those who gave their lives for others, those who taught us the wonders of life through their brave struggle to live, those who died for the cause of justice, who left no other mark on the world than their love of God in their love for others.  

The saints are a living presence among us, sources of inspiration and guidance as we make our way, one day, into their company.

Saints are the “blessed” of the Gospel who seek God’s way of compassion, who live lives of humble gratitude for the gift of life, who build peace, who live justly and seek justice for all God’s children, who imitate the mercy and consolation of God.  

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November 5, 2017:  31st Sunday of the Year [A] / 20th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 26A]

“Do and observe whatever the scribes and Pharisees tell you, but do not follow their example.  For they preach but do not practice.  They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.  All their works are performed to be seen . . .
“The greatest among you must be your servant.  All who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Matthew 23: 1-12


Today’s Gospel is another powerful indictment of the scribes and Pharisees.  The scribes were the religious intellectuals of the time, skilled in interpreting the Law and applying it to everyday life; the Pharisees belonged to a religious fraternity (“the separated brethren”) who prided themselves on the exact, meticulous observance of the Law.  Jesus condemns them for their failure to live up to their teachings:  In their eagerness to be revered, they seek to dominate rather than to serve.  Religious ostentation and pretension are rejected in favor of the Christian ideal of leadership contained in loving service to the community.

In warning his disciples not to use of the titles “Rabbi,” “teacher” and “Father,” Jesus condemns the spirit of pride and superiority such titles connote.  Those who minister as teachers and leaders should be humbled by the fact that they are not teachers or leaders in their own right but by the inspiration and grace of God.  In the reign of God, those who exercise authority have a particular responsibility to lead by serving.


In the Gospel perspective, the greatest leaders and teachers are those who share their vision of faith not in words alone but by the power and authority of their example, in the integrity of their lives, in their commitment of service toward and respect for those in their charge.

Jesus exalts those whose leadership and influence over others are centered in humble service, in selfless integrity, in respect for the hopes and dreams of others, in the ability to empathize with and reach out to the suffering and struggling, the poor and forgotten. 

For the person of faith, joy is found not in the recognition or honor that one receives in doing good but in the act of doing good itself, in realizing that we imitate Christ in such service, in the assurance that we are bringing the love of God into the lives of others. 

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November 12:  32nd Sunday of the Year [A] / 23rd Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 27A]

“The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.  The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.
“Stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Matthew 25: 1-13


These last Sundays of the year focus on the Parousia, the Lord’s return at the end of time.  The parable of the bridesmaids, found only in Matthew’s Gospel, is taken from Jesus’ fifth and final discourse in Matthew, the great eschatological discourse.

According to the Palestinian custom, the bridegroom would go to the bride’s house on their wedding day to finalize the marital agreement with his father-in-law.  When the bridegroom would return to his own home with his bride, the bridesmaids would meet them as they approached, signaling the beginning of the wedding feast.

The image of the approaching wedding feast is used by Jesus to symbolize his coming at the end of time.  Jesus’ return will take many by complete surprise.  The love we have for others as evidenced in works of kindness and compassion is the “oil” we store in our lamps awaiting for Christ's return.


Instead of terrifying us or intimidating us or driving us to despair, the inevitability of the return of Christ “the Bridegroom” should make us realize the preciousness of the time we have been given and inspire us to make the most of this time, filling our “lamps” with the “oil” of compassion, justice and forgiveness as we await his coming.

Time is a gift that God gives us through which we might come to discover him and the things that are of God.  The “busy-ness” of our days can derail us from embracing the important things of life itself -- like the love of family and friends.  The wisdom of God (Reading 1) compels us to seek Christ the Bridegroom in every moment we have been given in this life until the wedding feast of the life to come.

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November 19:  33rd Sunday of the Year [A] / 24th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 28A]

“‘You wicked, lazy servant!  So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter . . . ?’
“For to everyone who has, more will be given, and they will grow rich; but from the those who have not, even what they have will be taken away.”
Matthew 24: 36; 25: 14-30


The “measure” of Christ’s judgment in the world to come is made clear in the parable of the talents:  The Lord will judge us according to how well we used the “talents” and gifts every one of us has been given.  The greater the “capital” we have been given, the greater God's expectations.


Whatever degree of talent, ability and wealth we possess have been “entrusted” to us by the “Master.”  Jesus teaches that our place in the reign of God will depend on our stewardship of those talents God has given us: whether we “bury” them in fear or selfishness or use them readily to reveal God in our midst.  

Each one of us is given many opportunities to “reap and gather.”  The challenge of the Gospel is to be ready and willing to respond to those opportunities joyfully and generously for the sakes of others, to build the kingdom of God in own time and place.

Jesus urges us not to “bury” our talents in the safe ground of self-interest and passivity but to “invest” them for the benefit of all.  Christ calls us to a faith that is willing take the risk of investing what we have in the greater good, and he promises us the grace to work to enable others to realize a return on the investment of their own talents in God’s kingdom in our midst.  

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November 26:  Christ the King [A] / Reign of Christ / Last Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 29A]

“Come, you who are blessed by my Father.  Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me . . .
“Whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Matthew 25: 31-46


Matthew’s is the only description of the Last Judgment in any of the Gospels.  It is Jesus’ last discourse recorded by Matthew before the events of the Passion begin to unfold.  In the vision he presents in today’s Gospel, Christ is the king who sits in judgment “as a shepherd separates sheep from goats.”   Mercy and charity will be the standards for determining one’s entry into the future kingdom of God.


Christ the Shepherd-King clearly and unequivocally identifies himself with the poor.  Our “greatness” lies in our ability to reach beyond ourselves to bring justice, peace and reconciliation into the lives of everyone. 

Mother Teresa of Calcutta put today’s Gospel theme so succinctly when she said:  “At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done.  We will be judged by I was hungry and you gave me to eat . . . I was naked and you clothed me . . . I was homeless and you took me in.  Hungry not only for bread – but hungry for love; naked not only of clothing -- but naked of human dignity and respect; homeless not only for want of a room of bricks, but homeless because of rejection.  This is Christ in distressing disguise.”

In nations ruled by a royal family, the concept of monarchy is based on two premises: that the king rules by “divine right,” that is, by the authority of God; and that the character of the entire nation is vested in their king, sometimes expressed in the idea of the sovereign being the “father” of his children, the governed.  In this light, Christ is indeed King.  Jesus is the anointed one of God, the Christus, the Messiah raised up by the Father.  And he is the very essence of his people, the Church.  His Gospel is the bond that unites us as Church; the Eucharist, his body, gives life to that Church. 

To claim that Christ is our “King,” to proclaim ourselves to be “Christians,” demands a clear and conscious decision by each of us, not passive compliance to a “herd” spirituality.  To truly celebrate this feast means to welcome Christ not just into the compartments and slots of our lifestyles marked “religion” but into every thread and fiber of the fabric of our lives.

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December 3 – First Sunday of Advent [B]

“Be watchful!  Be alert!  You do not know when the time will come.”
Mark 13: 33-37


The beginning of the Christian year begins at the end of time: the promised return of Christ at the end of time.  In this brief Gospel parable of the master’s return, Jesus articulates the Advent themes of waiting, watchfulness and readiness.  Jesus calls us to realize our responsibilities in the present as we dare to look forward to the promise of the future.


Advent urges us to “stay awake” and not sleep through the opportunities life gives us to discover God in our midst; Advent challenges us to “watch” for the signs of God’s unmistakable presence in our lives.

Thee coming of Christ and his presence among us – as one of us – give us reason to live in hope: that light will shatter the darkness, that we can be liberated from our fears and prejudices, that we are never alone or abandoned by our merciful Father in heaven.

Advent confronts us with the preciousness and limits of time: that our lives are an Advent, a prelude, to the life of God to come.  While confronting us with the reality that our lives and finite and fragile, these Sundays of Advent also assure us of the mercy of God, who is with us amid all the struggles and challenges of our everyday Advent journey to the dwelling place of God.  

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December 10 – Second Sunday of Advent [B]

John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.
Mark 1: 1-8


John’s brief appearance in Mark’s Gospel begins a new era in the history of salvation.  Mark’s details about John’s appearance recall the austere dress of the great prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1: 8).  The Jews believed that Elijah would return from heaven to announce the long-awaited restoration of Israel as God’s kingdom.  For Mark and the synoptics, this expectation is fulfilled in John the Baptizer.  In the Baptizer’s proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah, the age of the prophets is fulfilled and the age of the Messiah begins.  John’s baptism with water is an act of hope and expectation in the Messiah's baptism in the very Spirit and life of God.


Each one of us is called to be a prophet of Christ.  The word prophet comes from the Greek word meaning “one who proclaims.”  Not all prophets wear camel skins and eat locusts – there are prophets among us right now who proclaim in their ministries, in their compassion and their kindness, in their courageous commitment to what is right that Jesus the Messiah has come.

Every Advent, John the Baptizer calls us to embrace the meaning of our own baptisms: compassion, forgiveness, justice, selflessness. 

As an “Advent people,” we are caught (like the Israelites returning to Jerusalem – Reading 1) between a world that is dying and, at the same time, a world waiting to be reborn.  The work of Advent is to bring about that rebirth: to prepare a world that is ready for the Lord's coming.

In the baptismal call to become prophets of the God who comes, we are to do the work of transforming the wastelands around us into harvests of justice and forgiveness, to create highways for our God to enter and re-create our world in charity and peace.

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December 17 – Third Sunday of Advent [B]

[John] came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might belief through him.
John 1: 6-8, 19-28


God has revealed himself to his people through the incarnation of his Word, Jesus the Christ.  In today’s Gospel, John the Baptizer points to this revelation as standing “among you whom you do not recognize.” 

Forms of “baptism” were common in the Judaism of Gospel times – in some Jewish communities, it was through baptism rather than circumcision that a Gentile became a Jew.  But John’s baptism was distinctive:  His baptism at the Jordan was a rite of repentance and metanoia, a conversion of heart and spirit.  The Baptizer’s ministry fulfilled the promise of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 36: 25-26): that, at the dawn of a new age, the God of Israel would purify his people from their sins with clear water and instill in them a new heart and spirit.


Light is the central image of today’s Gospel:  John proclaims the coming of the Messiah as the light who will shatter the darkness that envelops our world, the light who illuminates our vision with compassion and justice. 

Through baptism, we take on the role of “Christ bearers.”  Like John’s proclamation at the River Jordan, we are called to be witnesses of God's love by the love we extend to others; precursors of his justice by our unfailing commitment to what is right and good; lamps reflecting the light of God's Christ in our forgiveness, mercy and compassion.

All of us have been called by God to the work of “prophet”: to use whatever talents and skills we possess to transform the wastelands around us into harvests of justice and forgiveness, to create highways for our God to enter and re-create our world in his compassion and peace. 

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December 24 – Fourth Sunday of Advent [B]

“Hail, full of grace!  The Lord is with you . . . Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  Behold, you shall conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.”
Luke 1: 26-38


Today’s Gospel on this Sunday before Christmas is Luke’s account of the angel Gabriel’s appearance to Mary.  The Annunciation story is filled with First Testament imagery (e.g., the announcement by the angel parallels the announcements of the births of many key figures in salvation history, such as Isaac and Samuel; the “overshadowing” of Mary recalls the cloud of glory covering the tent of the ark and temple in Jerusalem).  Mary’s yes to Gabriel’s words set the stage for the greatest event in human history: God’s becoming human.


In today’s Gospel, God begins the “Christ event” with Mary, a simple Jewish girl who is at the very bottom of her people’s social ladder; the God who created all things makes the fulfillment of his promise dependent upon one of the most dispossessed and powerless of his creatures.  Yet God exalts her humility, her simplicity, her trust in his love and mercy.  God’s “favor” belongs the poor, the rejected, the abandoned and the forgotten among us today. 

In his becoming human in the Son of Mary, God enters human history is show us how to live God-like, grace-filled, holy lives of compassion, forgiveness and justice in our time and place in that history.

In the Advents of our lives, God calls us to bring his Christ into our own time and place; may we respond with the faith and trust of Mary, putting aside our own doubts and fears to say I am your servant, O God.  Be it done.  

The mystery of the Incarnation is relived every time we echo Mary’s “yes” to God’s call to bring his Christ into our world, when we accept, as did Mary, God’s asking us to make the Gospel Jesus alive in our own time and place.

Mary’s life is pretty much laid out before her by her family and culture — simple, hidden and uncomplicated.  But God interrupts her pre-ordered life, entrusting her with bringing his Christ to birth.  God interrupts our own well-ordered and focused lives, as well, to bring his Word and Light to birth in our hearts and homes; God’s messenger Gabriel appears to us in the needs of our children, the struggles of family and friends, the cries of the poor, the despair of the lost and marginalized.    

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December 25 – Christmas: The Nativity of the Lord [ABC]


“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.”
Matthew 1: 1-25 [18-25]

For Matthew, the story of Jesus begins with the promise to Abraham: that Jesus is the ultimate and perfect fulfillment of the Law and Prophets.  So Matthew begins his Gospel with “a family record” of Jesus, tracing the infant's birth from Abraham (highlighting his Jewish identity) and David (his Messiahship).  The historical accuracy of Matthew’s list is dubious; but that is not the point.  Matthew’s genealogy celebrates this Jesus as the fulfillment of a world that God envisioned from the first moment of creation – a world created in the justice and peace that is the very nature of its Creator.

Matthew’s version of Jesus birth at Bethlehem follows.  This is not Luke’s familiar story of a child born in a Bethlehem stable, but that of a young unmarried woman suddenly finding herself pregnant and her very hurt and confused husband wondering what to do.  In Gospel times, marriage was agreed upon by the groom and the bride’s parents almost immediately after the age of puberty; but the girl continued to live with her parents after the wedding until the husband was able to support her in his home or that of his parents.  During that interim period, marital intercourse was not permissible.  Yet Mary is found to be with child.

Joseph, an observant but compassionate Jew, does not wish to subject Mary to the full fury of Jewish law, so he plans to divorce her “quietly.”  But in images reminiscent of the First Testament “annunciations” of Isaac and Samuel, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream and reveals that this child is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.  Because of his complete faith and trust in God’s promise, Joseph acknowledges the child and names him Jesus (“Savior”) and becomes, in the eyes of the Law, the legal father of Jesus.  Thus, Jesus, through Joseph, is born a descendent of David.

Matthew’s point in his infancy narrative is that Jesus is the Emmanuel promised of old – Isaiah’s prophecy has finally been fulfilled in Jesus: the virgin has given birth to a son, one who is a descendent of David's house (through Joseph).  Jesus is truly Emmanuel “God is with us.”

“For today in the city of David a savior has been born to you who is Christ and Lord.”
Luke 2: 1-14

Centuries of hope in God’s promise have come to fulfillment: the Messiah is born!

Luke's account of Jesus’ birth (Gospel) begins by placing the event during the reign of Caesar Augustus.  Augustus, who ruled from 27 B.C.-14 A.D., was honored as “savior” and “god” in ancient Greek inscriptions.  His long reign was hailed as the pax Augusta – a period of peace throughout the vast Roman world.  Luke very deliberately points out that it is during the rule of Augustus, the savior, god and peace-maker, that Jesus the Christ, the long-awaited Savior and Messiah, the Son of God and Prince of Peace, enters human history.

Throughout his Gospel, Luke shows how it is the poor, the lowly, the outcast and the sinner who embraces the preaching of Jesus.  The announcement of the Messiah’s birth to shepherds – who were among the most isolated and despised in the Jewish community – is in keeping with Luke’s theme that the poor are especially blessed of God.

“Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place which the Lord has made known to us.”
Luke 2: 15-20

Typical of Luke’s Gospel, it is the shepherds of Bethlehem – who are among the poorest and most disregarded of Jewish society – who become the first messengers of the Gospel.

From the Christmas story in Luke’s Gospel, we have a romantic image of shepherds as gentle, peaceful figures.  But that manger scene image is a far cry from the reality:  The shepherds of Biblical times were tough, earthy characters who fearlessly used their clubs to defend their flocks from wolves and other wild animals.  They had even less patience for the pompous scribes and Pharisees who treated them as second and third-class citizens, barring these ill-bred rustics from the synagogue and courts.

And yet it was to shepherds that God first revealed the birth of the Messiah.  The shepherds’ vision on the Bethlehem hillside proclaims to all people of every place and generation that Christ comes for the sake of all of humankind.

And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us . . .
John 1: 1-18

The Gospel for Christmas Day is the beautiful hymn that is the prologue to the Fourth Gospel.  With echoes of Genesis 1 (“In the beginning . . . ,” “the light shines on in darkness . . .”), John’s prologue exalts Christ as the creative Word of God that comes as the new light to illuminate God's re-creation.

In the original Greek text, the phrase “made his dwelling place among is” is more accurately translated as “pitched his tent or tabernacle.”  The image evokes the Exodus memory of the tent pitched by Israelites for the Ark of the Covenant.  God sets up the tabernacle of the new covenant in the body of the Child of Bethlehem.


The humility and selflessness of Jesus that will be the centerpiece of his ministry and mission as the Messiah are first seen in his simple birth among the poor.

The true miracle of Christmas continues to take place in the Bethlehems of our hearts.  In the emptiness of our souls, God forgives us, reassures us, exalts us, elates us, loves us.

Christmas is more than a birth of a child: it is the beginning of the Christ event that will transform and re-create human history, a presence that continues to this day and for all time.

In Jesus, the extraordinary love of God has taken our “flesh” and “made his dwelling among us.”  In his “Word made flesh,” God touches us at the very core of our beings, perfectly expressing his constant and unchanging love.

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December 31 – The Holy Family [B]

“Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted . . . ”
Luke 2: 22-40


In today’s Gospel, the faithful Joseph and Mary bring their son to the temple for his presentation to the Lord, a ritual required by the Law.  The Book of Exodus taught that a family's first-born son “belonged” to the Lord who saved them when the first-born sons of the Egyptians were destroyed at the first Passover (Exodus 13: 15).

The prophet Simeon and the prophetess Anna are idealized portraits of the faithful “remnant” of Israel awaiting the Messiah’s coming.  Simeon’s canticle praises God for the universal salvation that will be realized in Jesus; in his prophecy, the shadow of the cross falls upon the Holy Family.

Anna, as an elderly widow, is considered among the most vulnerable and poor of society.  Her encounter with the child typifies the theme woven throughout Luke's Gospel: the exaltation of society's poorest and most humble by God.

In Matthew and Luke’s stories of Jesus birth and childhood (which were later additions to those Gospels, drawn from the many stories about Jesus’ life that were part of the early Christian oral tradition that had developed), life for the family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus is difficult and cruel: they are forced from their home; they are innocent victims of the political and social tensions of their time; they endure the suspicions of their own people when Mary's pregnancy is discovered; their child is born under the most difficult and terrifying of circumstances; they experience the agony of losing their beloved child.  And yet, through it all, their love and faithfulness to one another do not waver.  The Holy Family is a model for our families as we confront the many tensions and crises that threaten the stability, peace and unity that are the joys of being a family.


Today’s Feast of the Holy Family calls us to re-discover and celebrate our own families as harbors of forgiveness and understanding and safe places of unconditional love, welcome and acceptance.

The Holy Family is a model for our families as we confront the many tensions and crises that threaten the stability, peace and unity that are the joys of being a family.

The prophet Simeon proclaims that this child will be a “light” for Israel — but that light will endure great suffering and pain before finally shattering the darkness.  Luke’s Gospel of the Child Jesus reminds us that the crib is overshadowed by the cross, that this holy birth is the beginning of humankind’s rebirth in the Resurrection.  

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December 31 – Sunday after Christmas [ABC]

And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us . . .
John 1: 1-18


[See notes for Christmas: Mass during the Dayabove . . . ]


Christmas is more than a birth of a child; it is the beginning of the Christ event that will transform and re-create human history, a presence that continues to this day and for all time.

In Jesus, the extraordinary love of God has taken our “flesh” and “made his dwelling among us.”  In his “Word made flesh,” God touches us at the very core of our beings, perfectly expressing his constant and unchanging love.

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January 1 – Mary the Mother of God / Holy Name of Jesus [ABC]

When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus . . .
Luke 2: 16-21


In the Roman church, today’s solemnity is the oldest feast of Mary in the Church, honoring her by her first and primary title, “Mother of God.”

Jesus is given the name Yeshua – “The Lord saves.”  The rite of circumcision unites Mary’s child with the chosen people and makes him an heir to the promises God made to Abraham –promises to be fulfilled in the Child himself.


Today we honor Mary under her most ancient title Theotokos, “bearer of God”:  In accepting her role as mother of the Messiah, she becomes the first disciple of her Son, the first to embrace his Gospel of hope, compassion and reconciliation.

As Mary, the young unmarried pregnant girl, believes and trusts in the incredible thing that she is to be a part of, even the most ordinary of us can believe in our parts in the drama, too.

The God who makes all things new in Christ enables us to make this truly a new year for each one of us -- a time for renewal and re-creation in the love of God, a time for making this year a year of peace in our lives and homes, a time for making this new year truly a “year of our Lord.”

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January 7 – Epiphany [ABC]

Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem; “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?  We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”
Matthew 2: 1-12


The story of the astrologers and the star of Bethlehem are unique to Matthew’s Gospel.  Note that Matthew neither calls them kings nor does he give their names nor reports where they came from – in fact, Matthew never even specifies the number of magi (because three gifts are presented to the Child, it has been a tradition since the fifth century to picture “three wise men”).  In stripping away the romantic layers that have been added to the story, Matthew’s point can be better understood.

A great many First Testament ideas and images are presented in this story.  The star, for example, is reminiscent of Balaam’s prophecy that “a star shall advance from Jacob” (Numbers 24: 17).  Many of the details in Matthew’s story about the child Jesus parallel the story of the child Moses and the Exodus.

Matthew’s story also provides a preview of what is to come.  First, the reactions of the various parties to the birth of Jesus parallel the effects Jesus’ teaching will have on those who hear it.  Herod reacts with anger and hostility to the Jesus of the poor who comes to overturn the powerful and rich.  The chief priests and scribes greet the news with haughty indifference toward the Jesus who comes to give new life and meaning to the rituals and laws of the scribes.  But the magi – non-believers in the eyes of Israel – possess the humility of faith and the openness of mind and heart to seek and welcome the Jesus who will institute the Second Covenant between God and the New Israel.

Secondly, the gifts of the astrologers indicate the principal dimensions of Jesus’ mission:


Epiphany calls is to a new vision of the world that sees beyond the walls and borders we have created and to walk by the light which has dawned for all of humankind, a light by which we are able to recognize all men and women as our brothers and sisters under the loving providence of God, the Father of all.

The magi’s following of the star is a journey of faith, a constant search for meaning, for purpose, for the things of God that each one of us experiences in the course of our own lives.

What we read and watch and listen to in search of wealth, fame and power are the “stars” we follow.  The journey of the magi in Matthew's Gospel puts our own "stargazing" in perspective, calling us to fix our search on the “star” of God’s justice, peace and compassion.

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