Summary: Epiphany of our Lord - January 6th, 2002 Title: “Religious knowledge give us insights into the “heart” of God.” Matthew 2: 1-12
Epiphany of our Lord
January 6th, 2002
Title: “Religious knowledge give us insights into the “heart” of God.” Matthew 2: 1-12
In the time of King Herod, Magi, Gentiles from the east, follow a star that leads them to Jesus, whom they recognize as King and God. They worship him and offer him gifts.
Chapters one and two, deal with the pre-birth, birth and infancy of Jesus. Matthew has different stories about that period than Luke has. Matthew’s stories are told from Joseph’s point of view, while Luke’s are told from Mary’s.
Chapter two, has only three stories about the period after Jesus’ birth: 1) the visit of the Magi; 2) the flight into Egypt; and 3) Herod’s slaughter of the children of Bethlehem. In chapter three Jesus is a full-grown adult ready to begin his public ministry.
Chapters one and two, show how God protected this child and how he frustrated the plans of sinful people in order to fulfill what he promised through the prophets.
Matthew knows the Old Testament. It is a source of spiritual light and nourishment for him. He sees present events fulfilling, bringing into focus, bringing into reality, being realized or “enfleshed,” what God revealed, promised through his spokesmen, the prophets, in the past. Prophecies are not really forecasts for Matthew, like a weatherman would forecast the future weather, but are more like undeveloped Polaroid film revealing hints of what is there by this now fuzzy detail or that now foggy signpost. Once the event happens Matthew is able to look back into the Old Testament and point to its “prediction” or, at least, a detail or two. What the prophet saw in undeveloped form, promise, is now clearly developed, fulfillment. There are between ten and fourteen of these Old Testament quotes in Matthew depending on different theologians. The exact number is disputed because the formula which accompanies them is not exactly the same in every case, although the idea is there. That idea is this: “This happened to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet.” Isaiah is that prophet in eight of the citations. Five citations are found in chapters one and two alone. Some scholars have erroneously maintained that Matthew made up these stories to fit the Old Testament text. However, the stories generally make perfect sense without them. More correctly, Matthew knew of the stories and knew his Old Testament. He saw in the events details which he also saw in his meditations on the Old Testament and put the two together in order to strengthen and highlight the divine involvement in the events, events intended by God long before they happened, foretold long ago and fulfilled despite human opposition.
Matthew is telling his readers that the Old Testament is still relevant as a source of revelation. The New Testament has not abolished it, but “fulfills” it, 5:17. Matthew could see the marvelous concurrence between what God said long ago and what happened later. God is faithful, reliable and what he says will be will be. This God is in Jesus, a fact that the Gentile Magi recognized, they represent the whole Gentile world, before the Jews, who were supposed to know their Scripture, did.
These first two chapters are an overture to the gospel, introducing themes which will be fleshed out in the body of the work, even if they are written in a different key, in the style of Midrash, which is an exposition of the underlying significance of a Bible text in a style of literature written during the first Christian millennium. The text before us introduces both the rejection and acceptance of Jesus and has many parallels with the Passion Narrative.
In verse one, “after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea.” Matthew does not say how long after Jesus’ birth this event took place.
In the time of King Herod, Herod was not a Jew. His father was an Idumean; his mother an Arabian. He was an unscrupulous tyrant, having been made king by fiat of the Roman emperor in 40BC, who died in 4BC. Jesus was born before that, somewhere between 7 and 4BC. Called “the Great” because of his building achievements, like renovating the Temple, he was nonetheless paranoid about being overthrown, as are all tyrants. The Jews needed little else than the fact he was not a Jew to do so.
Magi: This term could refer to astronomers, serious scientists, medics, and philosophers as well as to quacks, charlatans, fortunetellers and magicians, derived from Greek magos. These here would be the serious ones, probably astrologers from Babylonia or Persia where the “science of the stars” was practiced by the Priestly caste. Tradition has them as three in number, a number derived from the three mentioned gifts, but no number is in the text, and as kings, because the gifts are fit for a king and because of the influence of Psalm 72 and Isaiah 60 which mention kings, but this text has them as magi.