Gentiles … Jews, Sharers of the Promise
In the second reading of today’s Feast of the Epiphany, St. Paul reveals God’s sacred plan: to unite and save in Christ’s Mystical Body, both gentiles and Jews.
Usually, we think of Jews and Gentiles as incapable of merging. God intended quite otherwise. Edith Stein exemplifies that intention.
Edith Stein was born to devout Jewish parents at Wroclaw, Poland in 1891. As an adolescent she lost her faith in God, but gradually recovered it when she began to study philosophy. Eventually, after reading the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila, she sought baptism as a Catholic in 1922.
Having finished her graduate studies, she took up teaching. Her brilliant conferences won her considerable note. In 1932 the Education Institute of Muenster, Germany engaged her as a regular lecturer in its philosophy department.
Edith lost this position after only a year, however. In 1933 Nazi Germany enacted laws to exclude from professional positions men and women of Jewish birth. She was not too disappointed. Now, at least, she felt free to take a step she had long contemplated and became a cloistered Carmelite nun. As Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross she continued to write important books on philosophy and spirituality.
When the Nazis intensified their persecution of the Jews in 1938, Sister Teresa, for safety’s sake, was sent to a monastery in Holland. But early in World War II the Nazis overran Holland as well. In a circular letter of 1942, the Holland Catholic bishops denounced the introduction there of the Nazi purge of Jews. Hitler’s response was typical. In reprisal for the protest he arrested and sent to Auschwitz a number of priests and nuns in Holland who were of Jewish blood.
Sister Teresa Stein was one of the prisoners. She was gassed to death at Auschwitz that same August. In her prison both Jew and Gentile were called into the happier Kingdom of God’s promise.
-Father Robert F. McNamara
Q561: Why is Matthew’s infancy narrative so different from Luke’s?
Only Matthew has the story about the Magi and the Star (Matthew 2:1-12). That ought to tip us off that there is a lot of symbolism to be found in today’s gospel. In turn, it means that Matthew is trying to bring out the theological significance of this wondrous birth.
Matthew points back to the Old Testament many times in his gospel, with the intention of showing how Jesus fulfills so many of the old prophecies. Two prophecies in particular would come to mind in Matthew’s Jewish Christian audience. First, they would recall Numbers 24:17, which foretells a star coming forth out of Jacob and a scepter rising out of Israel. These clearly point to one with authority of a king, one from the line of Jacob, a Messiah. The second prophecy is found in our first reading, Isaiah 60:1-6, which speaks of the light of the Lord arising over Israel, and all the nations bringing gifts and praise to the Lord.
Thus, the key symbol in the gospel is the star. In our story it becomes the sign of the new king who has been born, the Messiah. It is this star who compels the Magi to leave the Orient and follow the guiding light. The Magi enter the city of Jerusalem, but cannot see the star there, so they ask King Herod where the newborn king can be found. The chief priests advise Herod that the prophecies point to Bethlehem as the location (Micah 5:2), so Herod sends the Magi there so that he, too, can also discover the birthplace of this Messiah (who he sees as a political threat). When they leave Jerusalem, once again the Magi can see the star, and it guides them to the place of Jesus’ birth, where they adore him and give him gifts.
Therein lies the theological significance: the star is God’s guiding light, leading seekers to the long-awaited Messiah. The Magi (representing all the Gentile nations) follow a star and discover another star, the star of Jacob. Everyone who sincerely seeks truth will be led to Jesus, in whom lies all truth.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The magi represent the first-fruits of the pagan nations who welcome the good news of salvation through the Incarnation (CCC #528). Note that in Matthew’s gospel Mary makes the Word known first to gentiles (the magi) (CCC #724).
Nations Shall Walk by Your Light
All through their history the Israelites were ever conscious of their covenant relationship with God and of the promises God had made to Abraham, Moses and David. They were vividly aware that these promises had been fulfilled only in part — due to Israel’s infidelities. Isaiah today consoles them with the assurance that God is faithful, even when they are not. He describes in poetic language the coming fulfillment of God’s promises. Not only will they be reunited in the land of promise, but all the nations of the earth will see the glorious works of God. Then will be fulfilled the promise to Abraham that all nations will be blessed in his offspring and will come bringing gifts and praise for the wonderful work of God. St. Luke sees all these things coming to pass in the birth of Jesus. The wise Magi come bearing gifts and worshipping God. By baptism we share in the life of the Child of Bethlehem and so our lives should reflect the light that enables people to see the wonderful works of God.
Lord in many ways you bring me into contact with friends and strangers. May they see in me something of your promise fulfilled. May I see in them those whom you have called to share in the promises.