FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD
By: Rev. Fr. AMEH Sylvanus
Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12
Theme: Salvation for all
The Church celebrates today, the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, which basically is a commemoration of the revelation of Jesus to the gentiles and their inclusion in the salvation he brings for all of mankind. This implies that Jesus Christ did not come to save the Jews only, but all of humanity. It is even by virtue of this revelation of the salvation of Christ to the gentiles that made it possible for you and I to be Christians today. The Eastern Rite of the Catholic Church celebrates today as their Christmas.
This universal character of Christ’s mission on earth is also reflected clearly in all three readings of today’s Mass. In the First Reading, the prophet Isaiah tells us that the glory of the Lord is risen and ALL NATIONS shall work by His light. Saint Paul, in his Letter to the Ephesians (Second Reading), declared that “Gentiles are fellow heirs and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus” while the Gospel reading recounts to us, how the star of Jesus was seen and followed by Wise Men from the East until they found the new born King. These readings are quite instructive and hold some very important lessons for us, but we shall take only two lessons from them.
Lesson 1: Salvation is open to all
Before and even during the ministry of Jesus, the Jews had thought that they alone had exclusive rights to the kingdom of heaven. They believed that being descendants of Abraham, being the chosen race, they were the only ones to be saved. To their mind, heaven was the exclusive preserve of anyone born a Jew, and those who were not Jews were excluded. This explains why, before God sent Peter to the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion (a gentile), He first showed him a vision of all kinds of animals, both “clean” and “unclean” and asked him to kill and eat and when Peter refused, on the grounds that he has never eaten anything unclean, God told him not to call anything He has created unclean. This mindset of the Jews also explains why some of the members of the early Church were angry at Saint Peter for going to Cornelius’ house, until Peter explained to them that it was all God’s plan (Acts 10:9 – 11:1-18). But what the Jews did not know was that God’s plan was different (Isa 55:8-9). God desires for everybody to be saved, including you and I. One thing they failed to realize was that even the non-Jews (Gentiles) are also children of God and God loves us all equally. All this was made clear by the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. This is why Saint Paul wrote that “In union with Christ Jesus, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor freeborn, male nor female, for all are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). Jesus in his ministry of preaching also told the Scribes and Pharisees that “People will come from the East and West, from the North and South and sit at table in the kingdom of God” (Lk 13:29).
What this lays before us is that we must never make the attempt to exclude anyone from God’s invitation to receive grace, be they Catholic, Protestants, Muslims or of whatever faith. The prerogative of who enters into heaven or not belongs to God and God alone, and we must not constitute ourselves into hindrances preventing people from going in, or worse still, judging and condemning people as unfit for the kingdom of heaven. Sometimes we seem to forget, as Adrian Rogers once said, that “Salvation is not a reward for the righteous – it is a gift for the guilty.” While the Jews believed that the keys to their mansion in heaven was waiting for them, Jesus shocked them when he said that even those they have condemned to hell may make heaven while they themselves will be cast out into thick darkness (cf. Lk 13:28). Dear child of God, what is most important for us is that God has given us the gift of universal salvation, making it possible for us to also be sharers in the beatific vision of heaven. What we ought to concern ourselves with therefore, is to make the effort to enter by the narrow gate (Mat 7:13), and allow God to worry about who else qualifies for heaven or not, for God wants everyone to be saved and to know the truth (1 Tim 2:4).
Lesson 2: We are called to be lights
The gospel reading tells us that the wise men were led to Christ by the light of a star. That star shone once and will never shine again. But many people are still groping in the darkness of sin, needing light to lead them out of that darkness. Today, God calls upon us to be their bright stars. So, as the prophet Isaiah tells us in the First Reading we must arise and shine, for the glory of the Lord is risen upon us. This is what Jesus calls us to when he said we are the light of the world and our light must shine so that people may see our good works and give the glory to our Father in heaven (Mat 5:14-16). Saint Paul also admonishes that in a world of corruption, we must shine like stars (Phil 2:15). So, as Christians, called and saved in Christ Jesus, our lives should be lights that will lead people to God. When people come in contact with us, our lifestyle should be able to impress on them, the love of God and fire in them, the zeal to be better people. As God has granted us salvation, let us also help to save others; and may the grace of God give us the courage to do this, through Christ our Lord. Amen