Like so many things in life, self-esteem needs to be balanced. The balance is between humility and pride. The following is attributed to Rabbi Simcha Bunim, one of the leaders of Hasidic Judaism in Poland in the late 1700s and early 1800s:
Everyone must have two pockets so that he can reach into one or the other according to his needs. In his right pocket are to be the words, “For my sake was the world created,” and in his left pocket, “I am dust and ashes” (quoted in The Spirituality of Imperfection, p. 60).
Indeed, there is something magnificent about every individual. No one will ever be exactly like you or have just your combination of gifts. To you and to us all God gave the earth, saying,
Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground. Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food (Gen 1:28-29).
We have exhibited this mastery both as individuals and communally. Ours are science, learning, poetry, philosophy, art, law, technology, libraries, and great universities. We have built cities and civilizations. We’ve even been to the moon and back. No animal species—not even the highest primates—demonstrates anything even close to the qualities we have or has done anything that compares with what we have done. We have spiritual souls and rational minds. There is something glorious about the human person.
Yet we must also remember that we are but dust and ashes. We are contingent beings who depend on God for everything. Every beat of our heart, every fiber of our being, must be caused and sustained by Him. Scripture says,
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more (Psalm 103:13-16).
Our glory is a humble, derived, reflected one. Whatever spark of glory we have it is but a spark; it is from God, whose glory is unsurpassable.
Remember well your glory, but also your neediness and contingency. Whatever your gifts (and you do have them) remember that they are from God and are often granted through others.
Yes, two pockets: one for esteem, the other for humility.
In this Sunday’s Gospel passage of the wedding feast at Cana, there is a theological portrait of both Mother Mary and prayer. Let’s look at the Gospel along five lines:
I. The place that Mary has – The text says, There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding.
A fascinating thing about these opening verses is that Mary almost seems to dominate the scene; the presence of Jesus is mentioned only secondarily. St. Thomas Aquinas notes that at Cana, Mary acts as the “go-between” in arranging a mystical marriage (Commentary on John, 98; and 2, 1, n.336, 338, and 343, 151-152). Once the marriage is arranged, she steps back; her final words to are these: “Do whatever he tells you.”
How many of us has Mary helped to find her Son and to find our place at the wedding feast of the Lamb? I know that it was Mary who drew me back to her Son when I had strayed.
II. The prayer that Mary makes – The text says, When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”
Notice another central role that Mary has: intercessor. She is praying to her Son for others. There are three qualities to her prayer:
Discernment – Mary notices the problem, probably even before the groom and bride do. Indeed, mothers often notice the needs of their children before they do. Why didn’t Jesus notice? Surely, as God, He knew, but He waits for us to ask. Yes, God waits for us; He expects us to ask Him. In part this is respect; not all of us are ready to receive all His gifts. This expectation that we ask is also rooted in God’s teaching that we must learn to depend on Him and to take our many needs to Him. The Book of James says, You have not because you ask not (James 4:2).
Diligence – Simply put, Mary prays. Rather than merely fretting and being anxious, she goes directly to her Son out of love for the couple (us) and trust in her Son. She sees the need and gets right to the work of praying, of beseeching her Son.
Deference – Mary does not tell Jesus what to do, she simply points out the need: “They have no wine.” Mary is not directive, as if to say, “Here is my solution for this problem. Follow my plans exactly. Just sign here at the bottom of my plan for action.” Rather, she simply observes the problem and places it before her Son in confidence. He knows what to do and will decide the best way to handle things.
In this way Mary, models prayer for us. What wine are you lacking now? What wine do your children and grandchildren lack? Do you notice your needs and the needs of others and consistently pray? Or must things get critical for you to notice or pray? When you pray, do you go to the Lord with trust or with your own agenda?
So, Scripture teaches that Mary is the quintessential woman of prayer, a paragon of prayer. Not only does she intercede for us, she teaches us how to pray.
III. The portrait of Mary– The text says, Woman, how does this concern of yours affect me? My hour has not yet come. His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” Notice three things about this brief dialogue:
The title of Mary – Jesus calls her “woman.” In Jewish culture this was a respectful way for a man to address a woman, but it was unheard of for a son to address his mother in this fashion.
Hence, this text stands out as unusual and signals that Jesus is speaking at a deeper level. In the Johannine texts, Jesus always calls his Mother, “Woman.” This is in fulfillment of Genesis 3:15, which says, I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall crush your head, while you strike at his heel. Thus, Jesus is saying that Mary is this woman who was prophesied.
Far from being disrespectful to Mary, Jesus is exalting her by saying that she is the woman who was prophesied; she is the woman from whose “seed” comes forth the Son destined to destroy the power of Satan.
In this sense Mary is also the new Eve. Jesus also calls her “Woman” at the foot of the cross; He is the new Adam while Mary is the new Eve, and the tree is the cross. Thus, just as humans got into trouble by a man, a woman, and a tree, so now we get out of trouble through the same path. Adam’s no is reversed by Jesus, who saves us by his yes. Eve’s no is reversed by Mary’s yes.
The tenacity of Mary – In Greek, Jesus’ words to his mother are these: τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί, γύναι – ti emoi kai soi, gunai (What to me and to thee, Woman?). When this phrase appears elsewhere in the Scriptures (e.g., Gen 23:15; 1 Kings 19:20) it usually indicates tension between the interlocutors. On the surface, it would seem that Jesus is resisting his mother’s attempt to involve him in this matter. What makes this interpretation odd, though, is that Mary doesn’t appear to interpret Jesus’ response as resistance.
Perhaps there was something in the tone of voice that Jesus used, or perhaps there was a look between them that resolved the tension and evoked Jesus’ sympathy for the situation. Whatever the case, Mary stays in the conversation with Jesus and overcomes whatever tension or resistance existed. In this we surely see her tenacity.
We can see Mary’s tenacity at other times: Though startled by the presence of the angel Gabriel, she engaged him in a respectful but pointed conversation in which she sought greater detail. Mary also hastened to visit her cousin Elizabeth, and in the dialogue that followed she proclaimed a Magnificat that was anything but a shy and retiring prayer. She joyfully acknowledged the Lord’s power in her life and all but proclaimed a revolutionary new world order.
To be tenacious means to hold fast despite obstacles or discouragements. However we interpret Jesus’ initial resistance to Mary’s concern, it is clear that she does not give up; she expects the Lord to answer her favorably. This is made clear by her confident departure from the conversation, when she turns to the stewards with this instruction: “Do whatever he tells you.”
The trust of Mary – She simply departs, telling the stewards, “Do whatever he tells you.” She does not hover. She does not come back and check on the progress of things. She does not try to control or manipulate the outcome. She simply departs and leaves it all to Jesus.
IV. The power of Mary’s prayer – Whatever his initial concerns regarding Mary’s request, Jesus goes to work. Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it. And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from—although the servers who had drawn the water knew—the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.”
If we do the math, we can estimate that Jesus produced almost 150 gallons of the best wine. Mary’s prayer and tenacity produced abundant results.
Sometimes the Lord tells us to wait so that He can grant further abundance. Scripture says, But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:31).
The Catholic tradition of turning to Mary and regarding her as a special intercessor with particular power is rooted in this passage. Mary is not merely an intercessor for us, though; she is also a model. Following her example, we should persevere in prayer and go to the Lord with confident expectation of His abundant response. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much (James 5:16).
V. The product of Mary’s prayer – The text says, Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory and his disciples began to believe in him.
At the conclusion of this Gospel is the significant result that many began to believe in the Lord as a result of this miracle. This is Mary’s essential role with reference to Jesus, that she should lead many souls to a deeper union with her Son. Having done so, she leaves us with this instruction: “Do whatever he tells you.”
Mary’s role is to hold up Christ for us to see, as she did at Bethlehem for the shepherds (and later the Wise Men) and for Simeon and Anna at the Temple. Her role is to point to His glory as she does here at Cana. Ultimately, Mary’s role is to hold Jesus’ body in her arms at the foot of the cross after He is taken down.
As a mother, Mary has a special role in the beginnings of our faith, in the infancy and childhood of our faith. The text says that many “began to believe.” In Greek grammar, this phrase is an example of an inceptive aorist, often used to stress the beginning of an action or the entrance into a state. Thus, Mary has a special role in helping to initiate our faith, in helping (by God’s grace) to birth Christ in us. As St. Thomas Aquinas says, she is the “go-between,” the great matchmaker in the mystical marriage of Christ and the soul. Having done that, her final words are these: “Do whatever he tells you.” And while she may draw back a bit, she continues to pray for us.
Here, then, are some biblical basics about Mother Mary, gleaned from this Gospel passage of the wedding feast at Cana.
In this time after Epiphany and before Lent we continue to ponder the fundamental question: Who is Jesus Christ? There are many, many different titles of Christ in both the New and Old Testaments. If one studies them carefully, they can provide a “mini-catechesis” of the Lord Jesus.
Presented below are more than 150 different titles of Christ. For each title, I have included a link to the Scripture from which it was drawn. The list was compiled from various sources, but most come from The Catholic Source Book, which was compiled and edited by Fr. Peter Klein. In addition, some years ago my readers helped me to expand the list to its current state.
I have placed the list in PDF formathere, in case you’d like to save it for future reference.
There may be other titles of Christ that are not on the list. You can use the comments section to add any titles you notice are missing. If you know the scriptural reference, it would be helpful if you could include it, but if not I will try to locate it.
When considering an addition please consider whether it is truly a title or just a description. For example, “kind” is an adjective, and certainly describes Jesus, but it is not a title per se. Nouns show usually show better promise as titles of Christ, but even nouns do not always amount to a title. For example, “walker” is a noun, and surely Christ did a lot of walking, but again it is not a title per se.
Today’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a moment to reflect not only on the Lord’s Baptism but on our own. In an extended sense, when Christ is baptized, so are we, for we are members of His Body. As Christ enters the water, He makes holy the water that will baptize us. He enters the water, and we who are members of His Body go with Him. In these waters He acquires gifts to give us.
Let’s examine today’s Gospel in three stages:
The Fraternity of Baptism – The text says, Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?”
John is surely puzzled when Jesus requests Baptism. Why? John’s Baptism of repentance presumes the presence of sin, but Scripture is clear that Jesus had no sin.
For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Heb 4:15).
You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin (1 John 3:5).
So, why does Jesus ask to be baptized? Before answering, let’s consider this dramatic fact: Jesus identifies with sinners, even though He never sinned. As He comes to the riverside, He is not concerned with what people think. He is not embarrassed or ashamed that some might think Him a sinner. He accepts a remarkable humiliation in being found in the company of sinners like us and even in being seen as one of us. He freely enters the waters despite the likelihood of being numbered among the sinners by those who do not know Him.
Consider just how amazing this is. Scripture says, He is not ashamed to call us his Brethren (Heb 2:11). It also says, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21).
Jesus ate with sinners to the horror of many of the religious leaders: This man welcomes sinners and eats with them (Lk 15:2). Jesus was a friend of sinners, had pity on the woman caught in adultery, and allowed a sinful woman to anoint His feet. He cast out demons and fought for sinners. He suffered and died for sinners in the way reserved for the worst criminals. He was crucified between two thieves and He was assigned a grave among the wicked (Is 53).
Praise God, Jesus is not ashamed to be found in our presence and to share a brotherhood with us. There is a great shedding of his glory in doing this. Again, Scripture says, [Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself (Phil 1:3).
The Fulfillment of Baptism – The text says, Jesus said [to John] in reply, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed him.
The Fathers of the Church are of varying opinions as to what exactly Christ means by fulfilling all righteousness.
Chromatius links the righteousness to all the sacraments and the salvation they confer: This is true righteousness, that the Lord and Master should fulfill in himself every sacrament of our salvation. Therefore, the Lord did not want to be baptized for his own sake but for ours” (tractate on Matthew 13.2).
Chrysostom links it to the end and fulfillment of the Old Covenant: He is in effect saying, “Since then we have performed all the rest of the commandments, this Baptism alone remains. I have come to do away with the curse that is appointed for the transgression of the Law. So I must therefore fulfill it all and, having delivered you from its condemnation, bringing it to an end” (Homily on Matt 12.1).
Theodore of Mopsuestia interprets Christ to mean that He is perfecting John’s Baptism, which was only a symbol of the True Baptism. The Baptism of John … was perfect according to the precept of Law, but it was imperfect in that it did not supply remission of sin but merely made people fit of receiving the perfect one …. And Jesus makes this clear saying, ‘For thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness’ (Fragment 13).
From another perspective, the word righteousness refers, biblically, to God’s fidelity to His promises. In this sense, Jesus would mean that His Baptism would be the sign of the fulfillment of God’s righteous promise of salvation. God had promised this, and God is faithful to His promises. Jesus’ Baptism indicates this. How?
St. Maximus of Turin speaks of the Old Testament prefigurement of Baptism at the Red Sea and then shows how Christ fulfills it:
I understand the mystery as this. The column of fire went before the sons of Israel through the Red Sea so that they could follow on their brave journey; the column went first through the waters to prepare a path for those who followed …. But Christ the Lord does all these things: in the column of fire He went through the sea before the sons of Israel; so now in the column of his body he goes through baptism before the Christian people …. At the time of the Exodus the column … made a pathway through the waters; now it strengthens the footsteps of faith in the bath of baptism (de sancta Epiphania 1.3).
So, what God promised in the Old Testament by way of prefigurement, He now fulfills in Christ. They were delivered from the slavery of Egypt as the column led them through the waters, but even more wonderfully, we are delivered from slavery to sin as the column of Christ’s body leads us through the waters of Baptism. God’s righteousness is His fidelity to His promises. Hence, Jesus says that in His Baptism and all it signifies (His death and resurrection), He has come to fulfill all righteousness and thus fulfills the promises made by God at the Red Sea and throughout the Old Testament.
The Four Gifts of Baptism – The text says, After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Ephesians 5:30 says that we are members of Christ’s body. Thus, when Jesus goes into the water, we go with Him. In going there, He acquires four gifts on our behalf:
Access – the heavens are opened. The heavens and paradise had been closed to us after Original Sin, but with Jesus’ Baptism they are opened. Jesus acquires this gift for us. At our Baptism, the heavens open for us and we have access to the Father and to the heavenly places. Scripture says, Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand (Romans 5:1). Scripture also says, For through Jesus we have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (Eph 2:17). Hence, the heavens are opened at our own Baptism giving us access to the Father.
Anointing –the Spirit of God descends on him like a dove. Here, Jesus acquires for us the gift of the Holy Spirit. In Baptism we are not just washed of sins; we also become temples of the Holy Spirit. After Baptism there is the anointing with chrism, which signifies the presence of the Holy Spirit. For adults, this is Confirmation, but even for infants there is an anointing at Baptism to recognize that the Spirit of God dwells in the baptized as in a temple. Scripture says, Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (1 Cor 3:16)
Acknowledgment – this is my beloved Son. Jesus receives this acknowledgment from his Father for the faith of those who are there to hear it but also to acquire this gift for us. In our own Baptism we become the children of God. Because we become members of Christ’s body, we now have the status of sons of God. On the day of your Baptism, the heavenly Father acknowledged you as His own dear child. Scripture says, You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Gal 3:26).
Approval – I am well pleased. Jesus had always pleased His Father, but now He acquires this gift for us as well. Our own Baptism gives us sanctifying grace, the grace to be holy and pleasing to God. Scripture says, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in his sight (Eph 1:1-3).
Thus, at His Baptism, Christ acquired these gifts for us so that at our own Baptism we could receive them.
Consider well the glorious gift of your Baptism. Perhaps you know the exact date on which you were baptized. It should be a day as highly celebrated as your birthday! Christ is baptized for our sake, not His own. All of these gifts have always been His. In His Baptism, He fulfills God’s righteousness by going into the water to get them for us. It’s all right to say, “Hallelujah!”
This week at daily Mass we have been reading various Gospels. To some they may appear as arbitrarily selected. But they are not; they are an extension of the Feast of the Epiphany and this week that we are in is called “Epiphanytide.” Epiphany, as many know, means, “manifestation.” As such, the gospels of this past week bid us to reflect on the way Christ is manifest to us and to the early disciples. There is here, no attempt to provide a full Christology. Rather certain “windows” or images of Christ are given to us that we may more fully recognize who he is.
In the Breviary, the Antiphon to the Magnificat links three “Epiphanies” of the Lord:
Three mysteries mark this holy day: “Today the star leads the Magi to the infant Christ; today water is changed into wine for the wedding feast; today Christ wills to be baptized by John in the river Jordan to bring us salvation.”
The Gospels of Epiphanytide include these Gospels and others as well. What follows here is a brief summary of each day of Epiphanytide and its teaching or manifestation of Christ Jesus. I do not provide here a full exegesis of each passage, only how it is, in some way an Epiphany of Christ.
In Monday of Epiphanytide the Gospel, manifests Jesus as Messiah in the fulfillment of two Messianic promises. In the first place there is his Galilean ministry where Matthew notes that Jesus left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This identifies him with the Messiah, for Isaiah the prophet had said,
Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen. (Is 9:1-2).
Later, in the same Chapter of Isaiah, comes the familiar text of Isaiah:
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government will be upon His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God. The everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. (Is 9:6)
In the second place Jesus is manifest as the Messiah through his actions of healing and preaching. Matthew notes,
He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people. His fame spread to all of Syria, and they brought to him all who were sick with various diseases and racked with pain, those who were possessed, lunatics, and paralytics, and he cured them.
And great crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan followed him.
And these actions fulfill numerous prophecies of Isaiah including: Isaiah 29:18; Isaiah 35:5; and Isaiah 61:1 Indeed, when the Messiah came the the eyes of the blind wouldbe opened, the deaf would hear, the lame would walk, lepers be cleansed, and the poor would have the good news preached to them.
Jesus, especially in Matthew’s Gospel, is presented as the new and greater Moses. As God gave the Law through Moses and fed the people in the wilderness with Manna, so Jesus gives the Law and feeds the multitudes in the wilderness. Moses himself pointed to Christ when he told the Jewish people, A prophet like me will the LORD, your God, raise up for you from among your own kindred; that is the one to whom you shall listen. (Dt 18:15). And in today’s Gospel we see Jesus teaching, giving and interpreting the Law and feeding the multitude.
When Jesus saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things…. Then, taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; he also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied.
The Gospel for Wednesday of Epiphanytide is the familiar Gospel of Jesus walking on the water. Two things in this gospel point to Jesus divinity and title as Lord. Here is an excerpt:
[Jesus] came toward them walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them. But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out. They had all seen him and were terrified. But at once he spoke with them, “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!” He got into the boat with them and the wind died down. They were completely astounded. They had not understood the incident of the loaves. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened.
Note first that the expression, “He meant to pass by them.” This is phrase in the Scriptures is a common one in the theophanies of the Old Testament. I develop this matter more fullyhere: What does it mean that Jesus meant to pass by his disciples? In that article I present numerous examples of the use of this when God appears. Here, for our purposes it underscores Jesus identity as Lord and God.
Note secondly the observation that they are completely astounded. They were surely astounded that he could walk on the water. Earlier in Mark, the Apostles spoke more fully of their astonishment: Overwhelmed with fear, they asked one another, “Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” (Mark 4:41). Their question is rhetorical since every Jew would agree, the wind and sea only obey God.
Thursday Lk 4:14-22 He is the Messiah whom they have awaited.
Today’s Gospel of Epiphanytide is:
[Jesus] unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Here, reiterated, is the manifestation, by his own testimony, that he is the long awaited Messiah as Isaiah had prophesied. This manifestation is straight-forward, admits of no ambiguity and is solemn: Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah and Lord.
It happened that there was a man full of leprosy in one of the towns where Jesus was; and when he saw Jesus, he fell prostrate, pleaded with him, and said, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do will it. Be made clean.” And the leprosy left him immediately. Then he ordered him not to tell anyone, but “Go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.” The report about him spread all the more, and great crowds assembled to listen to him and to be cured of their ailments, but he would withdraw to deserted places to pray.
Here too as in yesterday’s manifestation is the fulfillment of Messianic prophesies. In Isaiah 35:5-6, the prophet speaks of the day of salvation this way: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; andspeaks also of the lame, and the mute. Isaiah 26:19 says, “Your dead shall live”; Isaiah 29:18 also refers to the healing of the deaf and the blind; while Isaiah 61:1 speaks of bringing good news to the poor (quoted by Jesus in yesterday’s Gospel in the synagogue of Nazareth (Luke 4:18-19).
Saturday – Jn 3:22-30 – John the Baptist Confessed him to be Messiah and Lord.
In today’s Manifestation, John makes it clear to his jealous disciples that Jesus is Messiah (Christ).
John answered and said, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said that I am not the Christ, but that I was sent before him. The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease.”
So revered was John the Baptist among First Century Christians, that many wondered if he were not, in fact, the Messiah. But the Scriptures attest he strongly denied this and pointed to Jesus, not himself. In John 1:20, there is an emphatic testimony attributed to John: “And he said and did not deny, but said, “I am not the Christ.””
And the Holy Spirit descended upon [Jesus] in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Thus, in fulfillment of Psalm 2:7 “You are my Son, this Day I have begotten you,” Jesus shares the Father’s nature since he is eternally begotten not made. He is not a creature distinct from God the Father. Since Jesus is begotten he shares his Father’s nature.
And, though not strictly in Epiphanytide, Cycle A adds the Gospel of the water changed to wine in recognition of the ancient linking of this miracle to Epiphany. This miracle manifests his glory:
Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.
And thus we see the extension of the Feast of Epiphany into the weeks following Epiphany in something of an intensive way. Some will note that the old Missal extended Epiphany unto Septuagesima Sunday as we shifted gears into Lent. And this is true enough. In the new Missal, epiphanytide is not as long, but it should not be missed.
The gospel for daily Mass on Wednesday recounted the familiar story of Jesus walking on the water after having multiplied the loaves and fishes.
There is an odd turn of phrase (to modern ears) midway through the gospel: About the fourth watch of the night, [Jesus] came toward them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them (Mark 6:48).
This seems odd. Why would Jesus approach them, walking on the water (astounding miracle that it is), and simply mean to pass on by?
We may think that this means that Jesus will not to stop, but will keep on walking past them. However, this is not what it means.
This expression of God “passing by” is a common one in the theophanies of the Old Testament. For example, when Moses was up on the mountaintop, God revealed himself by “passing by.” The text says,
Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen” (Exodus 33: 18-23).
Another example of this is in the appearance the Lord made to Elijah, who was hiding in a cave after his flight from Jezebel. At one point, God called him out of the cave so that He could “pass by.” The text says,
The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave (1 Kings 19:11-13).
Here are some other example of this “passing by.”
When John the Baptist saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” (Jn 1:36)
Now hearing a crowd going by, [the Blind Man] began to inquire what this was. They told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. And he called out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Lk 18:37-38)
Hence, for Jesus to “pass by” is not for Him to walk past us in hiding. Rather, it is for Him to reveal Himself to us and summon us to faith. Similarly, in the Old Testament texts God “passes by” not to hide but to reveal Himself and summon us to faith.
Some may argue that these phrases should be translated differently so that we can better grasp their meaning. Why not just say, “He came toward them to reveal himself to them?”
Perhaps there is some merit in this argument. But I would counter that a text often has a greater effect on us if it causes us to ponder and pray. Consider that in trying to “decode” this text, we have looked at four other passages. Further, we have deepened our appreciation of what it means for God to “pass by.”
There is a Scripture reading proclaimed at the Christmas Liturgy that usually gets overlooked. And yet it should elicit considerable reflection since it is proclaimed at the Christmas Midnight Mass, one of the Church’s most prominent Liturgies. It is from the Letter to Titus in the Second Chapter. I would like to reproduce it in full and then give some commentary following.
The grace of God has appeared, saving all
and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires
and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age,
as we await the blessed hope,
the appearance of the glory of our great God
and savior Jesus Christ,
who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness
and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good. Titus 2:11-14
The Moral Life is a gift – The grace of God has appeared– The Word Grace (χάρις – charis) most fundamentally means, “grace” but it also means “gift.” And this word “gift” needs to govern the whole remainder of the passage which is an exhortation to receive the gift of a new moral life in Christ. One of the biggest mistakes made by most Christians regarding the Christian moral life is that it is something we must, by our own flesh power, “do.” It is not. It is something we must receive as a gift. Without this understanding the Gospel is not good news at all, it is just a long and burdensome list of requirements that we must do “or else.” Frankly, some of the more demanding passages of the New Testament (e.g. that we should love our enemies, never have lustful thoughts and be perfect and the heavenly Father is perfect) ought to clue us in that this is going to have to be God’s gift and God’s work in us. This text is teaching us that the grace (gift) of God’s very own life is available to us. Jesus Christ wants to live his life in us and offers us that relationship. As he begins to live his life in us sin is put to death and the grace (the very life and love of God) comes alive in us. Of course we can then love our enemies because it is God who is doing this in us. Lust, greed, self-centeredness, anger, resentments, fear and the like all begin to die and are replaced by joy, serenity, peace, patience, chastity, love, generosity, self-control and the like. A completely new life is made available to us. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). This grace, (the gift of the very life of God) has now appeared in Jesus Christ and is available to you right now. Don’t leave this gift under the tree!
The gift is offered to all – saving all – The gift is offered to all. As I live, says the Lord, I do not want the sinner to die but to turn to me and live! (Ez 33:11) No one can say they are excluded or that that they are not being offered the gift of a new life in Christ. Therefore the Church’s moral exhortation cannot exclude anyone. There are many today who want to claim exemption from some aspect of the moral law. The claim comes most commonly today from the Gay community who say that God “made me this way” and thus that the Law of Chastity does not apply for them in the same way as others. But this cannot be so for it would amount to a denial that God’s call was universal and that his grace is sufficient. No indeed, God can equip, empower and enable all of us, whatever our condition or apparent limitations to receive and live this new life. ALL are offered this grace. Don’t leave any gifts under your tree unopened!
The gift does not just inform, it transforms – and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires– The Greek word translated here as “training” is παιδεύουσα (paideuosa). First note it is a present participle which signifies an on-going action. As Catholics we see salvation as a process more than just an event. The training involved here is lifelong. We ought to have the experience that we are growing into the perfection that God has promised. I may not be what I want to be but at least I’m not what I used to be! Our training and transformation are on-going and lifelong. Secondly, we need to grasp what is meant by training. Some translators render this as “instructing.” But let’s be clear, our instruction is more than an intellectual thing. It is experiential as well. The Greek word παιδεύουσα is rooted in the Greek word paideuo which means to train up a child by discipline and instruction. Perhaps the best example we have of this today for adults is the notion of a personal trainer. A personal trainer does not just write instructions or talk over the phone. They show up and take you through the exercises personally. They point out bad form that will bring on injury and establish an exercise routine that works all the major muscle groups. They also impose a kind of discipline or routine until the next visit. This is what God wants to do for us. He wants to personally train us and build up strength in us so that we will recognize godless ways and worldly desires and he gives us the strength and will to reject them not merely because we have to but because we want to. Make sure you open and receive this gift from under your tree.
The gift of a clear, clean, sober mind – and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age – The Greek word translated as “temperately” here is σωφρόνως (sophronos) and it more usually means sober, of sound mind, and by extension it can mean moderately or temperately. Obviously intemperate, extreme behavior causes our mind to be unsound. A good, clear mind is a gift that God wants to offer us by also giving us the gift to temper our behavior. To live justly is to be in right relationship with God and others, render to each what is due and receiving also what is due. This too is a very great gift to be sought. So often we are NOT in right relationships with God and others and the result is guilt, anger and frustration. The Greek word translated here as “devoutly” is εὐσεβῶς (eusebos) and it is an adverb meaning more commonly “reverently.” This helps us to understand the word more widely. To be devout is usually interpreted in religious terms as being prayerful. That is a good thing to be sure but the reverent behavior that is the gift here is to be respectful not only of God per se but also of everyone. The gift that the Lord offers in this verse is that with clear and sober minds we live in a right and reverent relationship with God and others. Don’t leave this gift under your tree either.
The gift of hope – as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ – To live with hope is a very great gift. The Theological Virtue of Hope is the gift to have a confident expectation of God’s help in attaining eternal life. Therefore hope is not some vague wish, it is a confident expectation. We ought to live with great confidence for our God has the power to save and the will to save us. And if we but open the gifts under our Christmas Tree and allow them to flourish in our life we can look with confidence to our judgement and to the glorious second coming.
A very personal gift– who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness – Notice again, the moral life is a gift. We are delivered from lawlessness. We are not just warned not to be lawless we are offered the gift of deliverance. And this gift isn’t something Jesus went and got at some store. He paid the price for it with his own blood. We are delivered from lawlessness by the precious blood of Jesus. This is a very personal gift. Now don’t leave it unwrapped!
The gift of a willing heart – and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good – The final expression of the gift is that when we receive the gift of the moral life from Jesus we are not only cleansed, our desires begin to be reformed. Thus we do not keep the law merely because we have to but because we WANT to. We become eager and joyful at keeping God’s law, not resentful and mournful about it. What a gift. Don’t leave it to be lost under the tree!
So, King Jesus has a garden full of diverse flowers, diverse gifts. There are many gifts he offers us but the fundamental gift he offers us is the gift of a new life, a reformed and restored heart and mind, eager to do what is right. This is his gift to us this Christmas and every day.
There are so many wonderful details in the Epiphany story: the call of the Gentiles, their enthusiastic response, the significance of the star they seek, the gifts they bring, the dramatic interaction with Herod, and their ultimate rejection of Herod in favor of Christ.
In this meditation, I would like to follow these Magi in their journey of faith to become “Wise Men.” As magi, they followed the faint stars, distant points of light; as wise men, they follow Jesus, who is the ever-glorious Light from Light, true God from true God.
We can observe how they journey in stages from the light of a star to the bright and glorious Light of Jesus Christ. And, of course, to authentically encounter the Lord is to experience conversion. All the elements of this story ultimately serve to cause them to “return to their country by another route.” Let’s look at the stages of their journey from being mere magi to becoming, by God’s grace, wise men.
Stage 1: The CALL that COMPLETES – The text says, When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”
Notice the identity of these individuals: they are labeled magi (μάγοι (magoi) in Greek) and are from the East.
Exactly what “magi” are is not clear. Perhaps they are learned men; perhaps they are ancient astronomers. We often think of them as kings, though the text of this passage does not call them that. It also seems likely that Herod would have been far more anxious had they been actual potentates from an Eastern kingdom. We often think of them as kings because Psalm 72 (read in today’s Mass) speaks of kings coming from the East bearing gifts of gold and frankincense. However, for the record, the text in today’s Gospel does not call them kings, but rather “magi.”
Yet here is their key identity: they are Gentiles who have been called. Up until this point in the Christmas story, only Jews had found their way to Bethlehem. This detail cannot be overlooked, for it is clear that the Gospel is going out to all the world. This call completes the Church, which needs both Jews and Gentiles.
In today’s second reading, St. Paul rejoices in this fact, saying, the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel (Eph 3:6). Because most of us are not Jewish by ancestry we ought to rejoice, for the call of these Magi prefigures our call.
Notice that God calls them through something in the natural world: a star. God uses something in creation to call out to them.
We do well to wonder what is the “star” that God uses to call each of us? Perhaps it is Scripture, but more typically God uses someone in our life in order to reach us: a parent, a family member, a friend, a priest, a religious sister, or a devoted lay person. Who are the stars in your life through whom God called you?
God can also use inanimate creation, as he did for these Magi. Perhaps it was a magnificent church, or a beautiful painting, or an inspirational song that reached you. Through something or someone, God calls each of us; He puts a star in our sky. These Wise Men, these Magi, followed the call of God and began their journey to Jesus.
Stage 2: The CONSTANCY that CONQUERS – Upon arriving in Jerusalem, the Magi find a rather confusing and perhaps discouraging situation. The reigning king, Herod, knows nothing of the birth of this new King. The Magi likely assumed that the newborn King would be related to the current king, so Herod’s surprise may have confused them. And Herod seems more than surprised; he seems threatened and agitated.
Even more puzzling, Herod calls in religious leaders to get further information about this new King. They open the sacred writings and the Magi hear of a promised King. Ah, so the birth of this King has religious significance! How interesting!
But these religious leaders seem unenthusiastic about the newborn King, and after providing the location of His birth, make no effort to follow the Magi. There is no rejoicing, no summoning of the people to tell them that a longed-for King has finally been born, not even further inquiry!
So the wicked (Herod and his court) are wakeful while the saints are sleepy. How odd this must have seemed to the Magi! Perhaps they even thought about abandoning their search. After all, the actual king knew nothing of this new King’s birth, and those people who did know about it seemed rather uninterested.
Ah, but praise the Lord, they persevered in their search; they did not give up!
Thanks be to God, too, that many today have found their way to Christ despite the fact that parents, clergy, and others who should have led them to Jesus were either asleep, ignorant, or just plain lazy. I am often amazed at some of the conversion stories I have heard: people who found their way to Christ and His Church despite some pretty daunting obstacles (e.g., poor religious upbringing, scandalous clergy, and poor role models). God sometimes allows our faith and call to be tested, but Those who persevere to the end will be saved (Matt 24:13).
To persevere is to open the door to wisdom, which often must be sought in spite of obstacles. This constancy is often what it takes to overcome the darkness and discouragements of the world.
Stage 3: The CONDESCENSION that CONFESSES – The text says, After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage.
With what little information they have, the Magi set out and continue to follow the call of God through the star.
Note that they enter a “house.” We often think of the Magi as coming that same Christmas night to the cave or stable, but it seems not; Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are now in a house. Apparently they have been able to find decent lodging. Has it been days or weeks since Jesus’ birth? Regardless, it is likely not Christmas Day itself.
Notice, too, that they “prostrate” themselves before Jesus. The Greek word used is προσεκύνησαν (prosekunēsan), which means “to fall down in worship” or “to give adoration.” This word is used twelve times in the New Testament and each time it is clear that religious worship is the reason for the prostration.
This is no minor act of homage or sign of respect to an earthly king; this is religious worship. It is a confession of faith. The Magi manifest faith! The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. And these Magi are well on their way from being mere magi to being wise men!
But is their faith a real faith or just a perfunctory observance? It is not enough to answer an altar call or to get baptized. Faith is never alone; it is a transformative relationship with Jesus Christ. So let’s look for the effects of a real and saving faith.
Stage 4: The COST that COMES – There is a cost to discipleship. The Magi are moved to give three symbolic gifts that show some of what true faith includes. They are costly gifts.
Gold symbolizes all of our possessions. In laying this gift before Jesus, they and we are saying, “I acknowledge that everything I have is yours. I put all my resources and wealth under your authority and will use them only according to your will.” A conversion that has not reached the wallet is not complete.
Frankincense is a resin used in incense and symbolizes the gift of worship. In the Bible, incense is a symbol of prayer and worship (e.g., Psalm 141). In laying down this gift, we promise to pray and worship God all the days of our life, to be in His holy house each Sunday, to render Him the praise and worship He is due, to listen to His word and consent to be fed the Eucharist by Him, to worship Him worthily by frequent confession, and to praise Him at all times.
Myrrh is a strange gift for an infant; it is usually understood as a burial ointment. Surely this prefigures Jesus’ death, but it also symbolizes our own. In laying this gift before Jesus we are saying, “My life is yours. I want to die so that you may live your life in me. May you increase and may I decrease. Use me and my life as you will.”
Yes, these three gifts are highly symbolic.
The Magi manifest more than a little homage to Jesus. They are showing forth the fruits of saving faith. And if we can give these gifts, so are we.
In their holy reverence for God is wisdom in its initial stage!
Stage 5: The CONVERSION that is CLEAR– The text says, And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.
Here, then, is essential evidence for faith: conversion. It is not enough to get “happy” in Church; we have to obey. These Wise Men are walking differently now. They are not going home by the same way they came. They’ve changed direction; they’ve turned around (conversio). They are now willing to walk the straight and narrow path that leads to life rather than the wide road that leads to damnation. They are going to obey Christ. They are going to exhibit what St. Paul calls the “obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5; 16:26). They have not just engaged in perfunctory worship; they are showing signs of a true and saving faith. They are not just calling out to Jesus, “Lord, Lord!” They are doing what He tells them (cf Luke 6:46).
No longer mere magi, they are now wise men!
So there it is. Through careful stages, the Lord has brought the Gentiles (this means you and me) to conversion. He called these Magi to wisdom. They remained constant, confessed Him to be Lord, accepted the cost of discipleship, and manifested conversion. Have you? Have I?
Walk in the ways of these Wise Men! Wise men still seek Him; even wiser ones listen to and obey Him. Are we willing to go back to our country by another route? Is ongoing conversion part of our journey home to Heaven? Epiphany means “manifestation.” How is our faith made manifest in our deeds and conversion?
I have it on the best of authority that as the (now) Wise Men went home by another route, they were singing this gospel song:
It’s a highway to heaven!
None can walk up there
but the pure in heart.
I am walking up the King’s highway.
If you’re not walking,
start while I’m talking.
There’ll be a blessing
you’ll be possessing,
walking up the King’s highway.