Spirituality of the Readings
Into the Hands of Love
On this Epiphany Sunday we hear a classic story about innocence in the midst of evil, innocence betrayed by those who should have cared.
The Gospel begins by referring to the fact that a guiltless child has been born. Angels in their rapture paint the sky with song. Shepherds hear and come a-running. The star pulls magi out of far lands to run and see. A beautiful, humble scene, giving such joy to all created beings.
Or at least to most of them. Our story contains another reaction as well. Jealousy. Herod feels a spasm of it when the magi ask their simple, trusting question.
Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.
Newborn king? Star rising? Herod, like the magi, should have been filled with joy at this news. But no. Instead, he is “greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” I suppose it would be like envoys from outer space visiting the White House to tell the president that they had selected a different ruler to take his place.
Cunning Herod does not show his distress to the magi but instead hatches a plan. He has never been very interested in his people, so now he seeks only information. He rushes the Jewish chief priests and scribes together and demands to know where this Messiah person is supposed to be born.
“In Bethlehem of Judea,” they answer. “God promised that a ruler would come from there, one who is to shepherd his people Israel.” It was the very good shepherd that God had been pledging for ages. Innocent hearts rejoice.
But Herod acts quickly. He oils his way back to the magi and suckers them with a story about Bethlehem. Oozing charm he lures them into a promise of information about the child. He wants to give homage too, he lies, whereas his aim is simple: get rid of the competition.
The magi travel on to Bethlehem and give true homage to Jesus. Herod finds out nothing from them because they go back home by a different route, warned by God in a dream.
That is the story. What are we to learn from it?
For myself, I wonder if you or I can retain something of innocence in today’s world? If “darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples” (First Reading), maybe Herod’s plan is the only smart way out. Lie, cheat, kill.
Isn’t the Church today engulfed in sins of priests and bishops and lay persons, who betray the youths they vowed to protect? Isn’t the world steeped in self interest? What makes us so sure we would not follow Herod’s example in detail if the opportunity presented itself? Where is our hope?
You will find it in the First Reading. Yes, it is dark outside, that reading says, but light shines into the darkness. If we bother to look at the light, at the child in a manger, we will take on some of the Godly glow we will find there. Our lives will settle down and our goals will become simple. By putting ourselves into the hands of love, Christ’s light will stay alight, sheltered like a candle in the wind.
Innocence in the midst of evil. Innocence betrayed by those who should have cared. But now you see why the Epiphany is actually a story of great hope.
John Foley, SJ
* The Synod convoked by Pope Francis has put out its conclusions on the subject of family. This document specifically recognizes human growth and feelings within marriage. In a time when so many have turned away from this felt and formal union, how important is such a reconsideration by the Church.
**From Saint Louis University