Epiphany Apostolic College, where I began college in Newburgh, New York, made the Feast of the Epiphany special to me.  While the idea of making the Christ Messiah known to the Gentiles is correct, this time I would pray around the notion of righteousness.  The Epiphany is no free ride, but a call to righteousness.  While the first word is righteousness, the second word is people.

 

Three mysteries of the Rosary suit this feast, the Third Joyful Mystery, the Nativity; and the First Mystery of Light, the Baptism of Our Lord, the third Mystery of Light, the Coming of the Kingdom.

 

Isaiah 60:1-6

 

verse 2[1]        See, darkness covers the earth,

                               and thick clouds cover the peoples;

 

Second Isaiah had a far different cosmogony, a theory of the origin of the universe, from the present Faithful.  Second Isaiah saw creation as a great conflict from which God brought order out of chaos, a place already inhabited by people, a place without evolution as moderns think of evolution.  Habitable places are in conflict with uninhabitable places, namely desert and sea.[2]  This sense of finding a way through the darkness and thick clouds suits the sense of order in Matthew.  Thy kingdom come.

 

Peoples, or as the Nova Vulgata puts it, populos, not gentes.

 

To see God the Faithful must pierce the clouds of darkness, not only outside of themselves, but also inside of themselves.  To find God, the Faithful need to see past evil.  God is not evil.

 

verse 3         Nations shall walk by your light

                               and kings by your shining radiance.

 

Nations in the Latin is gentes.[3]  That means us, the Gentiles.

 

verse 6         . . . bearing gold and frankincense . . . 

 

Myrrh is omitted.  Myrrh is used for embalming and to signify mortification of the flesh.[4]

 

verse 6         all from Sheba shall come

 

Sheba is in Africa.

 

Liturgists may be calling the story of the Queen of Sheba to the attention of the Faithful in parallel with the story of the Magi.  The Queen of Sheba demonstrates the significance of Solomon in a manner as the Magi demonstrate the significance of Jesus Christ.  While the scholar does not regard Matthew as having the Queen of Sheba in mind as Matthew portrayed the Magi, who knows, perhaps the liturgists do.[5]

 

This is Second or Deutero-Isaiah,[6] in Babylon, looking forward to the return of Israel to Jerusalem and our own return from sin to righteousness.

 

Second Isaiah understands Jewish history developing from a first stage of sinful behavior to a second stage of divine judgment, to a third stage of restoration.  Second Isaiah is in this third stage, regarding the Assyrian exile as a harbinger of the definitive Babylonian exile; the restoration of Hezekiah as a harbinger of the definitive restoration of Cyrus.[7]  God hardwires the spiritual lives of the Faithful into history.

 

Psalm 72:1-2; 7-8, 10-11; 12-13

 

verses 1-2     O God, with your judgment endow the king,

                               and with your justice, the king’s son;

                     he shall govern your people with justice

                               and your afflicted ones with judgment.

 

People is a translation of populum.

 

verse 7         Justice shall flower in his days …

 

The Messiah is described as righteous, saved, and afflicted.  Verse seven is the righteous description.[8]  The Faithful can also expect to be righteous, saved, and afflicted.

 

verse 11        . . . all nations shall serve him.

 

Nations is a translation of gentes.

 

verse 13        . . . the lives of the poor he shall save.

 

When this psalm is understood within the context of racism in the United States, the call for justice and saving the lives of the poor, suit the revelation of God to the Gentiles.

 

This is one of the Royal Psalms, ending the Second Book of Psalms.  The Psalms are divided into five books: I, 1-41; II, 42-72; III, 73-89; IV, 90-106; V 107-150.[9]  Eventually the people become grafted onto the King of the Royal Psalms.[10]  This psalm is a prayer for the grace to govern ourselves with justice.

 

Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6

 

verse 2         You have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace.

 

verse 5         It was not made known to people in other generations

 

People is translated from aliis generationibus.[11]

 

verse 6         that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body.

 

Saint Jerome translates Gentiles with gentes, that is, nations or peoples.

 

Matthew 2:2

 

No comment.

 

Matthew 2:1-12

 

verse 1         When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,

in the days of King Herod,

behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,

“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?

                     We saw his star at its rising

                               and have come to do him homage”

 

Matthew mentions this star three times in this reading.  Before reexaming this passage, I thought that the star rose in the east, where the Magi picked it up, to follow to Bethlehem.  A scholar notes that the Magi did not need the star to get to Jerusalem.  The Greek here uses a plural form for from the east, a form that excludes the notion of rising in the east.  Except for this first plural form, the singular used later might mean a star seen from the East.[12]

 

The idea that Herod could not find Jesus, that he had to use the Magi as spies defies human nature.  What makes more sense is that in reconstructing his narrative, Matthew combines two different original stories, one featuring Herod as the protagonist, the other the Magi.  When Matthew merges the stories, Matthew is interested in portraying the Christ, not in making scholars happy as they try to reconstruct exactly what happened, apart from the Gospel.[13]

 

What the Faithful understand by magi and what Matthew’s implied readers understood is far different.  The Faithful understand kings.  How that understanding came about helps understand this Gospel.  Magi, as understood by the implied readers of Matthew, were sycophants of the king.  Often magi did not even like their kings because, often, magi were forced to work for their kings.[14]

 

Matthew has a problem with civil authority as found in his Roman Empire.  If anything, Matthew is making a mockery out of the kings and would be appalled at portraying the magi as kings.  No king is going to prostrate himself before the Holy Family, though such prostrations did take place at the time.  The Magi are not exchanging gifts, as kings might; neither are the Magi leaving gifts whose monetary value is worthy of note in the Gospel.[15]

 

verse 4a        . . . scribes of the people.

 

People, in the Latin, is populi.

 

Is not this a switch, people here includes Israel.

 

verse 6                              And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

since from you shall come a ruler,

who is to shepherd my people Israel.”

 

The prophecy is from Mica 5.  The problem is that Mica made a mistake.  Mica expected the Bethlehem ruler to turn back the Assyrians some seven hundred years before Jesus appeared.  Referring to Matthew, one scholar gently expresses himself this way, referring to “. . . the wide scholarly agreement that the NT writers employed the OT creatively,”[16] to increase the importance of Jesus.  Another scholar approaches Matthew in similar manner, “Matthew emerges from our study as a creative innovator with conservative instincts.”[17]  Conservative instincts means that, given a choice, Matthew permitted his narrative to remain flawed rather than undo his original sources.  Just as the New Testament writers applied the First Testament from the perspective of the New Testament, so are the Faithful obliged to apply the whole of Scripture from their own personal perspectives.  This is not to deny the role of the Magisterium, but to say that the application of the Magisterium must be personal to be meaningful.

 

The Nova Vulgata uses reget,[18] a root from which comes the English regal.  The idea is to lead.  The grammarian mentions “lead (as a shepherd)” as one meaning.[19]  I do not know why the grammarian writes, . . .  the Vulgate rightly uses the subjunctive “qui regat” and not as in Greek the future (“qui reget”), the sense can be roughly “a leader such as to lead.[20]  The grammarian wrote in 1963, reprinted a sixth time in 1994.  The number of reprints means that the book was in demand.  The Nova Vulgata copyright is 1998.  The grammarian seems to differ with the Nova Vulgata.  To rule carries a stronger sense of justice than to shepherd.

 

One scholar points out, “The use of the metaphor of shepherd and sheep for the leaders and their people embraces the entire Gospel of Matthew.”[21]  Jesus is the Good Shepherd and the Messiah.  Matthew’s main concern in the first part of his Gospel is to portray Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God,[22] as gentle shepherd Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and as mighty Messiah, judge of the universe.  Later in the Gospel, Matthew will describe miracles worked by Jesus as a sign of Divinity.

 

People is found as populum in the Nova Vulgata

 

verse 7         Then Herod called the magi secretly

                               and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance.

 

9b       And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them,

                              until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.

 

While the scholar does not relate his presentation on Haley’s Comet to the star at Bethlehem at all, he quotes Josephus describing the comet as “a star resembling a sword.”[23]  Astronomers place the comet in 164 B.C., “as the date of the culminating events of the Maccabean Revolt.”[24]  The scholar does wonder about the memory of the comet in 66 A.D. as a portent just months before the outbreak of the Jewish war of 66-73 A.D.  If the scholar can wonder about that, I wonder about the Star of Bethlehem.

 

verse 11        They prostrated themselves …

 

verse 12        And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod . . . 

 

Magi were interpreters of dreams.[25]  Raymond E. Brown, S.S., author of Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (1993) speculates that Herod learned of the Messiah through a dream that the Magi interpreted for him.[26]  Brown follows the Herod-protagonist approach, an approach not followed here.  Brown is so important that his difference bears mentioning and is included.

 

Herod symbolizes disorder in the general theme of Matthew from order to community to transformation.[27]

 

The idea that means much to me is that there would have been solidarity between the people of Bethlehem and the Holy Family not to give away that the Holy Family had fled.[28]  The Feast of the Holy Innocents commemorates this solidarity.  Matthew portrays a cost-conscious bloody awareness of the entrance of the Messiah onto the historical stage.

 

Justice is seen in Isaiah 60 in the mention of Sheba, the need to be able to see the Christ Messiah both in ourselves and in others.  The Psalm is a call for self-righteousness, not only in a private personal sense, unknown historically until Early Modern Europe,[29] but also in the various communities and groups to which the Faithful belong.  Ephesians is about stewardship, in other words, justice.

 



[1] All quotations set off in this manner are from National Conference of Catholic Bishops, The Roman Missal Restored by Decree of the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican and Promulgated by Authority of Pope Paul VI: Lectionary for Mass: For Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America: Second Typical Edition: Volume I: Sundays, Solemnities, Feasts of the Lord and Saints (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1998).

 

[2] Richard J. Clifford, S.J., “The Unity of the Book of Isaiah and Its Cosmogonic Language,” the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 55, No. 1 (January 1993) 8-9.

 

[3] Nova Vulgata: Bibliorum Sacrorum Editio: Sacrosancti Oecumenici Concilii Vaticani II ratione habita Iussu Pauli PP, VI Recognita Auctoritate Joannis Pauli PP, II Promulgata Editio Typica Altera (00120 Citta Del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1979, 1986, 1998) ISBN 88-2209-2163-4, 1095.

 

[4] Gregory, Hom. 10 in Matth.:, Exposition from the Catena Aurea by Saint Thomas, The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers: Volume One: From the First Sunday of Advent to Quinquagesima, tr. and ed. M. F. Toal, D.D. (P.O. Box 612, Swedesboro, NJ 08085: Preservation Press, 1996), 210-211.

 

[5] John Nolland, “The Sources for Matthew 2:1-12,” the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 60, No. 2 (April 1998), 285-286; 290.

 

[6] Adrian M. Leske, “Context and Meaning of Zechariah 9:9,” the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 62, No. 4 (October 2000) 674.

 

[7] Richard J. Clifford, S.J., The Unity of the Book of Isaiah and Its Cosmogonic Language, the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 55, No. 1 (January 1993 )  15-16.

[8] Adrian M. Leske, “Context and Meaning of Zechariah 9:9,” the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 62, No. 4 (October 2000)  671.

 

[9] Nova Vulgata: Bibliorum Sacrorum Editio: Sacrosancti Oecumenici Concilii Vaticani II ratione habita Iussu Pauli PP, VI Recognita Auctoritate Joannis Pauli PP, II Promulgata Editio Typica Altera (00120 Citta Del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1979, 1986, 1998) ISBN 88-2209-2163-4.

 

[10] Adrian M. Leske, “Context and Meaning of Zechariah 9:9,” the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 62, No. 4 (October 2000)  67.

 

[11] Nova Vulgata: Bibliorum Sacrorum Editio: Sacrosancti Oecumenici Concilii Vaticani II ratione habita Iussu Pauli PP, VI Recognita Auctoritate Joannis Pauli PP, II Promulgata Editio Typica Altera (00120 Citta Del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1979, 1986, 1998) ISBN 88-2209-2163-4, 1739.

 

[12] John Nolland, “The Sources for Matthew 2:1-12,” the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 60, No. 2 (April 1998) 285-286; 291-292.

 

[13] John Nolland, “The Sources for Matthew 2:1-12,” the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 60, No. 2 (April 1998)  291-292.

 

[14] Mark Allan Powell, “The Magi as Kings: An Adventure in Reader-Response Criticism,” the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 62, No. 3 (July 2000) 466.

 

[15] Mark Allan Powell, “The Magi as Kings: An Adventure in Reader-Response Criticism,” the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 62, No. 3 (July 2000) 470-473.

 

[16] Randall E. Otto, “The Prophets and Their Perspective,” the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 63, No. 2 (April 2001) 235-236.

 

[17] John Nolland, “The Sources for Matthew 2:1-12,” the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 60, No. 2 (April 1998) 300.

 

[18] Nova Vulgata: Bibliorum Sacrorum Editio: Sacrosancti Oecumenici Concilii Vaticani II ratione habita Iussu Pauli PP, VI Recognita Auctoritate Joannis Pauli PP, II Promulgata Editio Typica Altera (00120 Citta Del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1979, 1986, 1998) ISBN 88-2209-2163-4, 1457.

 

[19] Max Zerwick, S.J. and Mary Grosvenor, A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament unabridged, 5th, revised edition (Roma: Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico 1996), 3.

 

[20] Maximilian Zerwick, S.J., English Edition adapted from the Fourth Latin Edition by Joseph Smith, S.J., Scripta Pontificii Instituti Biblico—114—Biblical Greek (Roma: Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 1994, 69.

 

[21] John Paul Heil, “Ezekiel 34 and the Narrative Strategy of the Shepherd and Sheep Metaphor in Matthew,” the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 55, No. 4 (October 1993) 706.

 

[22] Jack Dean Kingsbury, “Observations on the “Miracle Chapters” of Mathew 8-9,” the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 40, No. 4 (October 1978) 564.

 

[23] Josephus J. W. 6.5.3 ss 289 as cited in Wayne Horowitz, “Halley’s Comet and the Judaean Revolts Revisited,” the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 63, No. 3 (July 1996) 459.

 

[24] Wayne Horowitz, “Halley’s Comet and the Judaean Revolts Revisited,” the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 63, No. 3 (July 1996) 457.

 

[25] Max Zerwick, S.J. and Mary Grosvenor, A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament unabridged, 5th, revised edition (Roma: Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico 1996), 3.

 

[26] John Nolland, “The Sources for Matthew 2:1-12,” the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 60, No. 2 (April 1998) 283, footnote 1 for the full title; 288, footnote 13 for the nearest page reference, namely 192, and 289, footnote 18, which does not indicate specifically what page Nolland uses to attribute the speculation to Brown.

 

[27] Warren Carter, “Recalling the Lord's Prayer: The Authorial Audience and Matthew's Prayer as Familiar Liturgical Experience,” the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 57, No. 3 (July 1995) 529.

 

[28] John Nolland, “The Sources for Matthew 2:1-12,” the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 60, No. 2 (April 1998) 295.

 

[29] Benjamin J. Kaplan, “Fictions of Privacy: House Chapels and the Spatial Accommodation of Religious Dissent in Early Modern Europe,” The American Historical Review, Vol. 107, No. 4 (October 2002) 1031-1064.