Genuine seekers Introduction: Today’s First Reading says: “Your Light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.” The Light of the Star guided the Wise Men, the Light shone on the angels, God wants to let his light shine on us. But in the midst of the guiding light of the Wise men there are the shadows of Herod greatly troubled and all Jerusalem with him. We invite the light of the World into our lives into our shadows.
Matthew is writing his Gospel about the year 80 for Jewish Christians probably living in Syria. They are living the midst of two great transitions, separation from Judaism, and adjustment to the influx of the Greco_Roman world of the Gentiles. They are being harassed by non-Christian Jews. They are being overwhelmed by the great influx of Gentiles. These were turbulent years of transition and disruption. Matthew’s Church was suffering loss of perspective and unity.
Prophets say things that name a reality clearly: Pope Francis has said: “We are not living in an era of change, we are living in a change of Era.” Matthew’s Church was suffering loss of perspective and unity. Sounds to me like an apt description of our times.
One of the great seekers of our time a Jesuit priest-theologian, Fr. Karl Rahner, S.J. gave a talk some 16 years after the second Vatican Council. It was his attempt to give a basic interpretation of this Council. In it he pointed out there have been three great ages of Christianity: “First, the short period of Jewish Christianity. Second, the period of the Church in a distinct cultural region, namely that of Hellenism and of European culture and civilization. Third, the period in which the sphere of the Church’s life is in fact the entire world.” Now Christianity must meet World Religions: Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, etc.
The Gospel of Matthew, in a special way, tells something of the separation process of Christianity from Judaism. But it is also dealing with the second age, the spread of Jewish Christianity to the Greco-Roman World. We call ourselves Roman Catholics. As Roman Catholics we have our own doctrines, worship, church law, tradition. Our present day Roman Catholicism has been profoundly shaped by the splits that took place in the history of our Church. There have been splits with the Eastern Churches and Protestant Churches (I like to refer to them as separated sister churches). But all of these groups are Christian. The predominant geographical area for these religious groups has been Europe and then North and South America. There has been some spread to the East, but nothing compared to the expansion of the Roman Catholic Church to the West.
Our World has changed. Now we refer to ourselves as living in a global village. We know of Moslems in Iran and Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. We know of Hindus in India. We know something of Buddhists in China. We may have heard about other more obscure (to us) Religious traditions. It is in this world that we must now live and operate.
The Gospel of Matthew was written for Christians that had been Jews; people who continued to believe that only they shared the privileged state as the Chosen people. St. Matthew shows them that is no longer so, that now there are no more privileges in this way. What used to be exclusively theirs now belongs to all people. Matthew shows it through the scene we have just heard: some Wise Men who come from the East are looking for the new-born king of the Jews, whose star they have seen in the sky. Anybody, any woman or man of good will, who sincerely seeks goodness, justice and peace, can see themselves in these wise men from the East. Our Christian imagination has painted them with warm descriptive strokes. They are no longer just the kindly figures of the manger scene with their camels and dromedaries, exotic names, luxurious garments and their retinue like a fairy tale. They are all those who seek truth and love, and who, guided by that, wish upon a star, and find Jesus and offer him the best they and we have, because in Him we see God himself made human.
The topic of religious pluralism, the encounter of World Religions, and religious dialogue will more than likely be an ever increasing topic of discussion and discernment. Some have said it is the religious theme of the new millenium.
This Epiphany we should reflect on the guiding lights in our lives. Who are they? What are we reading? Who are our companions along the way? What do I do when I get stuck like the Wise men did? St. Paul said that a mystery had been revealed to him. The mystery St. Paul is talking about is this: God considers us all equal, loves us all equally, and has a special fondness for those who are excluded, marginalized, materially poor. Who am I forgetting in the broader Jesus family?
(Pope Francis has given global attention to a particular evil of our time, sexual abuse. He has called all the leaders of Bishop Conferences in the world to come to Rome in February. Much preparation is being done. The different cultural differences of the Roman Catholic Church may have to lead to dropping the “Roman” from the description. We have spoken of Catholic meaning “Universal”. Please let us all call down the Holy Spirit on those preparing and all those who will attend.)