This week I am posting two commentaries on Gospel texts. One is to commemorate the Feast of the Epiphany, which is traditionally January 6th. I am also posting the commentary for the first Sunday after the Epiphany. Some denominations may celebrate Epiphany this Sunday and skip to the second Sunday after Epiphany text next week. Besides, can we really hear too much Good News? Peace.
He is Here for Everyone
Pagans Come to Visit
This week is Epiphany, the celebration on the church calendar that commemorates the revelation that Jesus is here for all of us. The text is the same for each of the three cycles years, Matthew 2: 1-12. This contains the well-known story of the Magi, or wise men visiting the baby Jesus. This may be a historical occurrence or not, that is beside the point. The Gospel writer is concerned with the deeper meaning of the visit of these men and the reaction of Herod.
It has been suggested by some that the wise men or Magi where adherents of Zoroastrianism, an ancient faith that fell before the advance of Christianity, then Islam. This too is beside the point. What is the point is that these were Gentiles. Those not of the Jewish faith had heard of this King and wished to pay homage.
A Hostile Home Team Reaction
By contrast, the Gospel writer positions the Jewish response as utterly hostile. Herod is alarmed and desirous of this newborn King’s death. Herod, in this story, accepts the prophetic nature of Jesus’s arrival as it was explained to him by the chief priests and scribes who quoted Hebrew scripture. Herod accepts this prophesy but tries to counteract it, ultimately with violence in Verse 16.
This hostile reaction from the Jewish authorities foreshadows what will happen to Jesus at the end of His earthly ministry. It also foreshadows that it is not simply pious Jews who are good and holy, but those outside of this tradition can be as well. The story of the Good Samaritan will drive this point home later.
The Scope of Jesus’s Message
What is crucial to understand from this passage is the all-encompassing nature of Jesus’s message and His ministry on earth. He has come for everyone, Jew and Gentile alike. This is the epiphany, which simply means a revelation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something. That something is that God has become man and Jesus is here to reign as King over all humanity. God truly did love the whole world. Matthew’s text makes clear that this saving grace that Jesus offers is to be extended to all groups, all genders, all faith traditions, all levels of society. Our response is to simply believe, then obey.
Praise Be to God
Truly One of Us
Presenting Himself, Like Anyone Else
The text for this First Sunday after Epiphany is Matthew 3: 13-17. As always on this Sunday in the church year this is the tale of Jesus’s baptism by John. What is striking in this passage is that Jesus is presenting Himself to John as any other person would, desiring to be baptized. Baptism was a thing that was done to ritually cleanse oneself. This was particularly a thing that was done by Gentiles. This is in keeping with the fact that Jesus, in last week’s text has revealed Himself to be the source of salvation for all of humanity. He embraces the fullness of all humanity by doing what the Jewish tradition said only needed to be done by Gentiles.
Fully Human, God’s Beloved
More than just presenting Himself in need of baptism like any Gentile, Jesus presents Himself to John as a fully human person would. Jesus has taken on all our humanity and observes all the human forms and traditions. As Jesus says in Verse 15 “Let it be so now: for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness”. He even turns John back from claiming that He does not need to be baptized. Jesus is truly Immanuel, God among us.
Yet, the passage ends with another affirmation of who Jesus is in addition to being fully human. He is God’s chosen, His beloved. This is shown in dramatic fashion with “the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him” (Verse 16). Once again, the Scriptures point us to believe in Jesus as both God’s Son as well as fully human. God loves us that much that He would give His Son totally to humanity for our salvation. The call is clear; believe that God’s word is true, then obey as best we humanly can.
Praise Be to God