Blessings and Woes
Like St. Matthew’s Sermon on the mount, St. Luke’s Sermon on the plain also tells of Jesus teaching His disciples an unexpected litany of who is blessed (the Beatitudes); though unlike St. Matthew’s version, St. Luke includes a list of 4 woes (vaes). It is, therefore, understandable that more people gravitate towards St. Matthew’s rendition, after all, the beatitudes make us feel good about ourselves while the woes, not so much. Of course Jesus’ teachings often juxtaposed the good with the bad, the ups with the downs, the expected with the unexpected, God’s kingdom with the world, and these lessons were as challenging for the disciples then as they are for us today.
I often think about what Jesus’ message was to the disciples and those people who gathered about when He spoke of those who were blessed as well as those who inspired His woes. Through the millenia , the church’s interpretation, and indeed general consensus on the meaning of being “blessed” is one of happiness and contentment; we use the term blessings to refer to those worldly situations and possessions which are thought to bring about the state of happiness. Yet, as Jesus spoke to the diverse crowds of rich and poor, healthy and sick, popular and pariah, content and wanting, it seems that happiness would not have been such a universal truth. In fact, to those who were poor, hungry, weeping, hated and excluded, insulted and denounced, it is doubtful they would describe their plight as being a state of happiness. And to the rich, satisfied, cheerful, loved and accepted, praised and exalted, surely they would not described their lives as woeful. But the scripture is clear, the former are described as “blessed “and woe is given to the latter.
In this light to be “blessed” must imply something deeper, more spiritual, more meaningful then worldly happiness. Clearly, the blessings that the Creator has laid upon those who are the world’s most afflicted do not involve the worldly ideals of riches and contentment but, instead, some state of being in an enviable relationship with God. I liken this state to the relationship of a gravely ill child with their parent. Though parents may equally and unconditionally love all their children, for those who bear illnesses or challenges beyond that of normal childhood, there is a special parent-child bond, a special celebration of existence which transcends the child’s corporal affliction. To be blessed by God then, is to be part of this unique Creator-creation bond, a bond of unconditional love that is envied by all others. When we are weighed down by our own plight, when the world seeks to subjugate us for our differences and humanity has abandoned us as unworthy of existence casting our frail bodies out into the dust of the streets, it is there that find ourselves in the arms of our Creator. In the depths of human need and frailty, it is our heavenly Father who loves and provides for us and the Holy Spirit who fills our breasts with life, hope, strength and perseverance. We are cleansed with holy tears shed by the Redeemer, our transgressions are washed away by the blood of God’s lamb and our inequities are erased by the most loving and gracious of sacrifices. It is there in the Earth’s dust from which we were fashioned that we open our eyes to see the one who created us, the smiling face of our heavenly parent who sees through the veil of our imperfect physical shell seeing only the magnificence that is His creation.
It is no wonder Jesus said woe to those who have found happiness in worldly riches and power. How He must have grieved to see those given so much by the world, always striving with each step to reach the apex of their ivory towers –steep rocky steps built on pride, greed, desire for power and concern for wordly acceptance. Alas, if only they could find the humility to reach down and lift up those who lay in the dust, or break bread with those who had none or share a kind word and moment of recognition with the ostracized, then they might understand what it truly means to be “blessed”.
How can we receive God’s love and be so “blessed”? Does our heavenly Father wish us to become like the poor, hungry, weeping, hated and excluded, insulted and denounced before we might receive His love? Of course not! Like any parent, our Father does not wish that we His children should suffer such a plight, but He does wish us to humble ourselves and reach out to those who are ignoble; to reach out to them, touch them, hold them, lift them up and so stand together as brothers and sisters.
There is a little story which I have stumbled upon that goes:
The old Rabbi said, “In olden days there were men who saw the face of God.”
“Why don’t they any more?” a young student asked.
“Because, nowadays no one stoops so low,” he replied.
Oh How true! Remember Moses went up the mountain, only to be near God when he knelt down in front of a burning bush and the disciples only began to see the true light of Jesus when they looked down as He washed their feet! So we too must stoop down low, lower than those we once called our servants, and be servants to them, washing their feet, caring for their needs above our own, healing their wounds and comforting their souls. For when we lower ourselves so that we might raise up others, it is then that we allow the blessings of God to flow through us and into others and in so doing we too become “blessed”.
Gospel LK 5:1-11
While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening
to the word of God,
he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret.
He saw two boats there alongside the lake;
the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets.
Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon,
he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore.
Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon,
“Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”
Simon said in reply,
“Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing,
but at your command I will lower the nets.”
When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish
and their nets were tearing.
They signaled to their partners in the other boat
to come to help them.
They came and filled both boats
so that the boats were in danger of sinking.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said,
“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him
and all those with him,
and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee,
who were partners of Simon.
Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid;
from now on you will be catching men.”
When they brought their boats to the shore,
they left everything and followed him.
As Christians we face many challenges in these uncertain times. We want to enjoy life, we want to do things that provide us pleasure and act as if we answer to no one. Unless we are spiritually dead we also experience that vague feeling that we should be doing something that makes a difference in the world, something that lightens someone else’s burden or somehow indicates that we are Christians and care about our fellow man. Our drive to enjoy life and our drive to help our fellow man come together and challenge us to think about what is important to us. On the surface Luke’s story is about fishing, but I believe it is telling us to move out of our comfort zone and sail into uncharted waters for the sake of Christ and his Kingdom. Jesus instructed the fishermen to take their boats to deeper water and cast their nets out for a catch. These fishermen have been fishing all night with nothing to show for their effort, they were tired, and the last thing they needed was fishing advice from a carpenter. These times were much simpler than today, no fish meant no food to these people. They obeyed Jesus and were pleasantly surprised to catch so many fish that their nets were starting to tear. We assume they were greatly pleased.
You may think of this as one of Jesus’s miracles, but in reality, this is more of a physical lesson than a miracle. The lesson I believe he wished to teach us is that we need to leave our comfort zone (the shallow waters) and venture out into the deeper waters to bring people to Jesus. We like to fish in the shallow familiar waters, seeking like minded people, people who have similar experiences, and share our thoughts and feelings. Jesus wants us to venture into the deeper waters and minister to the people who are on the edge of society, those who are under water and feel as if they are drowning in life. As the song “Let Down Your Net, Down into The Water” says:
There is some of you diseased and afflicted
and sickness reigns in your mind,
you’ve let the prophets of doubt and unbelief convince you
that Jesus don’t heal the sick and blind.
Jesus does heal the sick and the blind, we just need to find them, take their hands and lead them to the Lord. Where do we find the sick and the blind? Look around you while swimming in the deeper water. You can most likely find them already in your everyday life, at work, at school, or even in your church. Yes some people are just going through the motions, and hoping they are doing it correctly by attending church. Take their hands, answer their questions, listen to their concerns and lead them to our Lord.
Your soul is so thirsty, your so battle weary
your body’s weak and tired from the pain,
well it’s time to get up stand up on the bible
he’s pouring out that latter rain.
Come to the lord and be refreshed, be rejuvenated, and be replenished. The Lord will fill your soul with joy and peace, quench that thirst and take away your pain once and for all.
Don’t worry about the water being too deep, Jesus is your lifesaver!
Lord, in your mercy guide us to the deeper water so that we, with your guidance, may bring others to know your love and peace. Allow us to make ourselves available to you so that you can work miracles through us. Help us to make your church flourish by making us into a lighthouse in our community, guiding others to you. Amen
Today’s Readings and Gospel follow a specific pattern that speaks to us as Christians and particularly as Dominicans.
The First Reading is God’s hortatory address to Jeremiah but is to be accepted as directed to us as keepers of the flame, or simply as messengers of God’s word…as prophets to the nations. So who are we to hold back? Why do we quaver? “…for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”
The Responsorial Psalm describes how we are to imitate Jesus. Having accepted the mission to spread the Gospel, this is a prayer to our Master to give us the strength, tools, and courage we need to go forth and relay his message. In the psalm, we pray to God that we will be worthy of the task because he is with us, protecting and guiding us. It is like a pep-talk before the big game, a sales meeting before we hit the road.
The Second Reading is a run-through of our mission, touching all the bases, but most especially the whole point of our work: to show the world that God is Love, that we revel in that Love, and that we are passing on the means to our own and the world’s salvation: Love. We, along with Jesus, put up the demons and one-by-one knock them down to replace them with the one honest-go-God’s Truth: Love. And as a bonus, we are given, and we give, the gifts of Faith and Hope, the companions and the servants of Love.
The Alleluia reminds us, in no uncertain terms, that while we are bestowing God’s message we really ought to remember to whom we are truly speaking: the poor, captives, those who most need God’s grace.
And finally, in the Gospel, Jesus tells us exactly what’s probably going to happen to us. We are going to be reviled and rejected. But, like Jesus, if we are true to our calling, and with God’s grace, we will pass through the midst of our tormentors and go on to those who will benefit from our teaching, and thank us for bringing it.
Well. There we are. An easy yoke and a light burden.
Wait a minute, though. Let me go back and think this through again. In today’s Mass we have the preacher’s lesson: God is on our side, we acknowledge our task and pray for success, we give our message as best we can, not forgetting who may need it most, and we prepare ourselves not only for people to heed God’s word, but also for people to scoff at us and drive us away.
These are the readings that we need to memorialize and memorize. I do, anyway.
These are the readings that lay out the simple mission and that show us exactly how it is to be accomplished.
But in fact, frightening as all get-out at times.
And that is exactly why we are expected to become completely familiar with Holy Scripture. Because therein, hidden as well as in plain sight, we have all we need to represent Jesus on earth. In fact, he’s not asking us to perform healing mysteries or loaves and fishes miracles. If we just take today’s Mass to heart, and to soul, we will have all we need to fulfill our vows.
Yes, there will be stumbling blocks. I’ve climbed over (and honestly gone around) many so far. But just as Jesus showed us, we can and we will walk through the negativity and away from the precipice over which some would like to toss us.
So yes, it can be, at times, a frightening path.
For have we not been told in Psalm 126, “ Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.
Lord may it be so for us, that with your help, we will reap a rich harvest. In Jesus’s name.
Reading 1: MAL 3:1-4
Responsorial Psalm: PS 24:7, 8, 9, 10
Reading 2: HEB 2:14-18
Gospel: LK 2:22-40 or LK 2:22-32
Today, the church celebrates The Presentation of The Lord. This feast is also known as Candlemas, and this always falls on February 2nd: 40 days after Christmas.
Let us first look at what we are told in the Holy Gospel today in LK 2:22-40 (NABRE):
The Presentation in the Temple. 22 When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord,
23 just as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,” 24 and to offer the sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,” in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the holy Spirit was upon him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord. 27 He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, 28 he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:
29 “Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you prepared in sight of all the peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.”
33 The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; 34 and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted 35 (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” 36 There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshipped night and day with fasting and prayer. 38 And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.
The Return to Nazareth. 39 When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.
Today is a day of light. Jesus is the saving light of our often dark world of shadows. Shadow and light are the reality of our earthly lives and of our materialistic world. I feel sure we could all tell a story to some extent, of what it was like to live in the shadowy places of life, some with experience of it more than others. Sometimes we go there by our own choice or by our own actions, but at other times, it may be as a result of someone else’s actions or through the circumstances of life.
Sometimes we choose to hide ourselves away in the darkness avoiding the light because of our feelings of shame or guilt. We do not want to admit the truth of our lives to ourselves and we do not want others to see that truth about us – our thoughts, the things we have done, or the things we have left undone. The shadows, we tell ourselves, will cover and hide us. Other times we live in the dark night of fear not knowing what will come next or how we will handle it. There is the sense of powerlessness and life seems out of control. There are those times when the darkness and shadow of sorrow and grief sucks out the life and the light of our world and we seem unable to escape the darkness at that moment. Sometimes we may experience the darkness of ignorance and of confusion. We may be blind to our own identity, lost on the path of our life, wandering seemingly without meaning or direction.
Even when we choose to be in the shadowy places of life, they are always uncomfortable to live in. That discomfort is because of the eternal light of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus, shining in the darkness. No matter how large the shadows or how dark the night may seem to be, the light of Jesus is still present and can never be extinguished. This is symbolized today in the candlelight procession of the feast of Candlemas which is held by some churches. That little flickering flame of the candles that are carried are the reminder that Christ – “a light for revelation” – is with you, me, and each of us! When we extinguish those candles the light did not and will not go away. It remains within us and it always has been and always will be. But we must begin to see this light with different eyes.
Sacred Tradition says that Simeon was 270 years old when he met Jesus in the temple and that he was blind. Yet Simeon himself declares to God, “My eyes have seen your salvation.” We could debate about the factual accuracy of Tradition and Scripture. Could Simeon really have been that old? Was he really blind and, if so, how did he see? Such debate and questions will surely miss the truth held before us in both the Scriptures and the Tradition. Yes, Simeon was blind. Yes, Simeon saw salvation. But he did not see with physical eyes. He saw with the eyes of his heart. Simeon experienced an inner seeing. He saw Jesus as the light of Salvation for the world that he is.
That Light of Jesus is revelatory. It reveals to us mercy and forgiveness in the worldly dark shadows of guilt and shame, it is the light of presence and courage in the night of fear, of compassion and hope in the darkness of sorrow and loss, a way forward in the blindness of our ignorance and confusion, and is eternal life in the darkness of death. The flame of God’s love consumes the darkness, it fills us! It frees us to go in peace just as God promised. We have seen salvation and Simeon’s song now becomes our song.
Let us pray:
God, our Father, hear our prayer
and let the radiance of your love
scatter the gloom of our hearts and of our lives.
The light of heaven’s love has restored us to life –
free us from the desires that belong to darkness.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. AMEN
I love the pool! I love to people watch! We live at the beach in a vacation community. During the summer there are lots of folks here, and there is a buzz of excitement and laughter and shouting and just noise. A good chunk of that noise comes from the folks in the pool and the pool is a great place to watch people. In the shallow end of the pool there is the sound of all those excited children of different ages and abilities and sometimes it can be deafening. They laugh, they yell, they run. They cry. There are no inside voices in the shallow end of the pool. It’s loud!
Funny thing, though, the only sounds coming from the deep end of the pool are the sounds of experienced swimmers, swimming with discipline and confidence. There is no yelling, no crying, no complaining, no evidence of fear or frustration. They seem to know what they are doing, and are doing it well.
This leads me to believe that all the noise that comes from the shallow end of the pool comes from those who haven’t learned to swim with confidence or are not secure enough to venture into the deep water.
Sadly, many Christians reflect this clearly. The noise comes from the shallow end, not the deep end. Think about it. The American church-attending public is very style conscious, politically conscious, quite vocal about political issues, and is basically made up of consumers of religion.
In any city there are churches saying in like manner:
“Come to our church. Our preacher doesn’t wear a tie. Our preacher wears golf shirts and jogging shoes.”
“Come to our church! We wear shorts and sandals.”
“We have video.”
“We have snare drums and screens.”
“We’re into political reform.”
“We have a religious superstar preaching today.”
“We use the King James version.”
Everyone is out front, just like carnival barkers, pushing their style, their religious product, but when we get inside those churches, we find, just like at the carnival, that no one knocks out the balloons or knocks down the bottles. No one wins the prize. No lives are changed. The church of the big idea, the church of the big action, the church of politics, and the church of the big deal somehow leave us empty. Something is missing. We find that those folks who are the most vocal about issues and politics are often those who reflect very little Jesus.
I have realized in recent years that all we do to establish our niche in the church market may be a cover for an empty heart, a shallow commitment, and a secular mindset. Let’s start the other way. Let’s build on a foundation, a strong commitment to Jesus Christ and see what happens.
Unless a church’s foundation is Jesus Christ, there is no substance, no power. It is sound and fury. It is chaff. If Jesus Christ is the foundation, walks the halls, sits in the pews, and is in our classes, if he interprets the Bibles and sings our hymns, preaches our sermons, then we will know and do our mission effectively. If we do not realize that EVERY person is a part of the body of Christ, we will continue to be ineffective and to divide the church, the nation, and the world.
The Epistle from this morning makes it clear that the church is Christ’s body on earth.
God gives different gifts to different people. Some, a passion for peace; Others, a passion for political freedom. Some, a passion for life and its sacredness, Others, a passion for forgiveness and mercy. Some, a passion for a more closed interpretation of the Bible, Others, a passion for a more open interpretation of the Bible. Some, a passion for evangelism, Others, a passion for justice. All of these people believe they are working for the common good. Each and every one of these people are inspired by the one and same Spirit, the Spirit who gives to each person their unique and different perspective. For just as the human body is a unified whole, composed of millions of different parts, so is Christ and his body. The upshot here, though, is that we must be the body of Christ, who taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves. The Christ who taught us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. The Christ who taught us to love and to pray for our enemies.
Each of us needs a passionate commitment to Jesus, not a passionate commitment to political, ideological, or stylistic ideas. We don’t need to focus on consumer desires or even on one frame of reference theologically. We have lost our focus. We are concentrating on everything and everyone except our Lord.
We have to change this. We have to rediscover our faith, our Jesus. When we rediscover Jesus Christ, our lives will be revitalized. We must rediscover the beauty, the majesty, and the power of a strong commitment to Jesus Christ. When that happens, we will not get bent out of shape about walls and politics. The central question will be, “Did we meet Jesus?” not “Was my opinion supported today?”
To say that Jesus Christ is the root and foundation, the cornerstone, the vine, is not a way of evading issues. This is calling the church to understand that we are Jesus people. We are members of his body, and the church in all of its power and strength needs to rediscover Jesus. Yes, issues are important. Yes, we should be politically aware. However, if we do not view issues through the lens of the Gospel, if we are not acting on our political awareness with love, we are nothing, will be nothing, and certainly will not be effective. If we do not work for those political and social issues while demonstrating the love of Christ, our love FOR Christ, then we have nothing, are nothing.
If you have these passions in your heart, these workings, but if you don’t have love inside of you for your brothers and sisters who think and feel differently than you, you are nothing. The greatest gift that God has for you is love. Love for people who don’t think like you. Love for people who do not share your point of view on specific issues. You are to make love, your goal, your aim, your greatest purpose for life.
When we rediscover Jesus Christ, our belief will be strengthened and focused. When the church rediscovers Jesus Christ, the people will come for the show, but they will stay to grow. The only noise we will hear in a church, on our streets, in our Facebook feeds, will be people swimming from the shallow end to the deep end of the pool because they feel safe in deep water.
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.
When the wine ran short,
the mother of Jesus said to him,
“They have no wine.”
And Jesus said to her,
“Woman, how does your concern affect me?
My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servers,
“Do whatever he tells you.”
Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings,
each holding twenty to thirty gallons.
Jesus told the 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.”
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. JN 2:1-11
Picture it – Jesus and his mom are at a wedding, the wine starts running low, and Mary wants to help. Mary tells Jesus in a way that lets him know that she wants him to do something about it. Jesus replies “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” He wasn’t being rude to her, this is how it gets translated to English. In context, Mary has just come up to him and informed Jesus that the people running the wedding have no wine, so you might literally translate his response as “What [is that] to me and to you?” In other words: “What does that have to do with us?”
He’s not dissing her. He’s putting the two of them–both of them–in a special category together and questioning the relevance of the fact that people outside this category don’t have wine. He’s saying that it’s not the responsibility of the two of them to make sure they have wine.
Part of what makes it sound like Jesus might be dissing his mother is the fact that he refers to her as “woman.”
We don’t talk to women like that today–not if we respect them, and certainly not our own mothers.
But the connotations–of respect, disrespect, or other things–that a word has in a given language are quite subtle, and we can’t impose the connotations that a word has in our own language on another.
Consider: Suppose, in English, we replaced “woman” with a term that means basically the same thing but with better connotations. For example, the word “lady” or “ma’am.” Suddenly what Jesus says sounds a lot more respectful.
In British circles, “lady” has distinctly noble overtones (it’s the female counterpart to the noble honorific “lord”). And even in demotic America, a son can say, “Yes, ma’am” to his mother and mean it entirely respectfully. So what can we learn about the connotations of “woman” as a form of address in Jesus’ time?
But Mary is far from the only woman for whom this word is used as a form of address. We also find the following:
- Jesus uses it to address the Syro-Phoenician woman (Matt. 15:28).
- Jesus uses it to address the woman with a hemorrhage (Luke 13:12).
- Peter uses it to address the high priest’s servant girl (Luke 22:57).
- Jesus uses it to address the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:21).
- Two angels use it to address Mary Magdalene (John 20:13).
- Jesus uses it to address Mary Magdalene (John 20:15).
- Paul uses it to address an individual wife among his readers (1 Cor 7:16).
- Paul uses it to address the wives in his audience (Col 3:18, using the plural: gunaikes).
- Peter uses it to address the wives in his audience (1 Peter 3:1, using the plural: gunaikes).
That’s quite a few uses, but none of them are disrespectful!
So, let’s move on to the miracle and the disciples. The disciples were at the wedding with Mary and Jesus: Mary is being a typical mother and Jesus is being a typical son by questioning everything His mom told Him to do. I can imagine she gave Him “THE LOOK” ….. you know that look that a mom can give that lets you know that if you don’t stop what you are doing and do what she tells you to do there is going to be trouble. Jesus agrees to help the wedding party out and make some wine for the guests. Long story short, Jesus makes enough wine for everybody and the disciples witness the miracle. This is His first miracle, and up until now the disciples knew that He was something special. Now they knew for sure that He was who and what he claimed to be. Although John acknowledged that Jesus performed many miracles, he describes only seven. Arguably this is not the most amazing of his miracles, it is the one that caused the disciples to know for sure in their hearts that they were truly in the presence of the Messiah, and that through this belief you may have life in His name. So too can we have eternal life through Jesus and his miracles, but most especially through His sacrifice on the cross, where He gave His life that we may have eternal life. Things we can take away from this miracle:
1: This miracle lets us know that Jesus is concerned about the little things in life as well as the big things.
2: This miracle assures us that God can take something ordinary and turn it into something really wonderful.
3: This miracle assures us that God’s love is abundant and plentiful as was the wine.
Heavenly Father, consider us as the empty vessels waiting to be filled with your love and grace. Take away our worries, and fill us with a new energy of trust and faith just as Mary and the disciples had faith that Jesus was the Messiah. Give us the gift of being filled with new wine and a new vision. Amen.
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”
When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. Matthew 2:1-12 (NIV)
Today we mark the end of the Christmas season – the Day of Epiphany. We celebrate this day to reflect on the visit of the Magi – the wise men – to Jesus and the giving of their gifts. We reflect on the meaning of this visit of those wise ones to see Jesus.
Epiphany is about Jesus and his message being available and relevant to people of every age and race. Jesus isn’t just a Jewish prophet with an exciting message, but God made present amongst us and available to all of us to worship and follow. God’s love reaches beyond the everyday barriers of race and class; something the Magi didn’t quite get at first.
So Who Were the Magi?
We don’t know much about the Magi from Scripture. All Saint Matthew tells us is that they were “Magi from the East”. Some translations have “Wise men from the East”. The word in Greek refers to priests of the Zoroastrian religion. They came from Persia, the countries now known as Iran and Iraq, and they saw meaning in the movement of the stars. Their visit fits an Eastern pattern of great births being accompanied by momentous events in the sky. Certainly we know of a comet in 11BCE in Gemini with its head towards Leo, seen by many as a symbol of Judah. We also know of planetary conjunctions in both 7 BCE and 6 BCE which would have added to a sense that momentous happenings were on the way. The Magi would have noticed these things and taken them seriously. But who were they?
One commentator, Brian Stoffregen puts it like this;
“Originally in Persia, Magi were dream- interpreters. By Jesus’ time, the term referred to astronomers, fortune-tellers, or star-gazers. They were horoscope fanatics – a practice condemned by Jewish standards. We might compare them to people in fortune – telling booths, or people on the “psychic hotline” or other “occupations” that foretell the future by stars, tea leaves, Tarot cards etc. They were magicians, astronomers, star-gazers, pseudo-scientists, fortune tellers…”
Another writer, Nathan Nettleton, puts it like this;
“They were the speakers of the sacred words at the pagan sacrifices. At worst, the term referred to a magician or sorcerer, or even a deceiver. Magi were people whose activities were repeatedly condemned and prohibited throughout the scriptures and were completely anathema to the people of Israel.”
Whilst in English we get the words “magic” and “magician” from Magi, the Zoroastrian religion forbade sorcery. They clearly were looking for a new king and had found meaning in the movement of the planets and stars which led them to come to Israel to greet the new-born king. They journeyed from their homes in Persia to Bethlehem in search of this baby. Instead of angels and visions, we have the image of the Magi following a sign in the skies – in nature – and for a long period of time. The magi see the intentions of God in the skies. This is not new: Psalm 19 tells us that the heavens themselves declare who God is, and that his handiwork is seen in created nature. “We observed his star at its rising”. The magi know that there is something significant happening.
When did they come?
The Gospel of Saint Luke doesn’t mention the Magi and holds that the Holy Family returned to Nazareth after the presentation of Jesus at the Temple where he was circumcised. It’s probable that Saint Luke didn’t know of this episode in Jesus’ early life. Saint Matthew seems to place the visit of the Magi some time after Jesus’ birth. The Holy Family are in a “house” not in the stable of the inn. Herod kills all the newborn boys under the age of two years. So it’s likely that the Holy Family had stayed for some time in Bethlehem and the Magi came some time after Jesus’ birth, perhaps as long as two years after.
WHY did they come?
Clearly, the Magi were searching. The Magi recognized much of the truth of Jesus, who he was and what he would become. The Magi had a general idea of this God and this King of the Jews, but they didn’t really know who or what they were looking for. Bono and U2 were criticized some years ago by some supposedly orthodox Christians when they produced a song entitled, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” which is about searching for fulfillment. You see, the example of the Magi was that they were searchers, not really knowing what or who they were looking for. They didn’t claim to have it all but they saw their lives as a journey of discovery. And in that they are an example to us. We don’t know it all. But if we, like them, are prepared to be diligent seekers, then, like them, we may be graced by God’s light, by our own Epiphany. When the wise men finally found Jesus, we are told that their first response was joy – “they were overwhelmed with joy”. That is what happens when we find Jesus. This is what awaits us at the end of the journey. Next, they paid him homage – they worshiped him and acknowledged Him as King. After the joy comes the worship. That means acknowledging Jesus as King. Jesus as the center. Jesus as Lord. And then, after joy and after worship, comes offering of their gifts. In response to who Jesus is and the joy He gives, we offer ourselves and our gifts to Him.
So my message for today is to dare, like them, to take the risk of seeking, and God may well bless us with our own Epiphanies which transform us, as doubtless the Magi were transformed by what must have been a surprising experience for them as they knelt before the infant Jesus.
So how do you find Jesus? Maybe you can start out like the Magi – with a general idea of God, and a general idea that He is guiding you. Like the Magi, we need to turn to the scriptures. If you don’t read them, you will never really get the specific directions that God is trying to give you. Approach them with the right spirit, the right purpose. Ask for help along the way – the church, we, God’s people, are meant to help you along that way. The wise men knew when they needed to ask someone else for help. And pray. Ask God. When you find Jesus, rejoice. After all, He is God. Put Him in the center of your life. Ask yourself whether what you are doing honors him a King. Offer to him what you have, who you are.
Where can this Jesus be found? He is with you now. Won’t you seek Him? Won’t you recognize Him? Won’t you let Him fill YOUR life with joy? Amen.