Christmas IV – Epiphany
Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12
A pretty innocent question wouldn’t you say? Then why do King Herod and all Jerusalem with him become “greatly troubled”?
Questions are not always innocent; they can be disruptive and subversive. And if the questions are subversive so must the people who ask them. How often have people who ask questions been labeled as traitors, disloyal, rebellious, and troublesome? How often are such people marginalized, imprisoned or simply disposed of?
Questions challenge long held propositions.
Consider Galileo Galilei: the earth is not the center of the universe; rather we are a mediocre size planet circling a mediocre size star at the outskirts of a mediocre galaxy among billions of galaxies. In the grand scheme of things, humans are not special.
Questions challenge authority. And when authority is challenged it usually reacts by hardening its position.
- Herod, Pharaoh of Egypt and the Taliban in Peshawar, Pakistan murder children.
- Henry VIII of England executed saints Sir Thomas Moore and Bishop John Fisher.
- Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi were assassinated.
- Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest for 15 years in Burma.
- Throughout the world in 2014, 26 journalists were murdered.
Closer to home, on Monday, 22 December 2014, Pope Francis addressed the Vatican’s governing leadership for his yearly Christmas greeting with a very un-festive tone. The Pope’s remarks listed 15 spiritual “ailments” including:
- “The sickness of considering oneself ‘immortal’, ‘immune’ or ‘indispensable’”. He accused the Curia of not being self-critical and staying up-to-date.
- “Spiritual Alzheimer’s disease” or rather a forgetfulness of our ‘first love’.
- “Chatter, grumbling and gossip” – a serious illness that begins simply, often just in the form of having a chat, turning people into cold-blooded murderers of other people’s reputations.
- “The disease of indifference towards others” arising when each person thinks only of themselves, and loses the sincerity and warmth of personal relationships.
Needless to say, Francis is not making friends within his own administration. And we need to be reminded that these spiritual ailments are not just found among the members of the Catholic Church’s administration; they are found in every diocesan chancery and parish. The reform Francis wants to engender will no doubt meet resistance.
Questions challenge people to change the way they think and perceive the world.
- Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., showed us through sitting on a bus and experiencing violence without retaliation that people of colour are fully human and deserve dignity and equal treatment.
- Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton paved the way for social reform in regard to rights for women in our country.
- Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, Belgium, has called for ecclesiastical recognition of gay relationships stressing that the church urgently needs to connect with contemporary society, showing more respect for homosexuality, divorced people and modern kinds of relationships.
Such questions can be experienced as uncomfortable causing fear and hardening of hearts or such questions can be experienced as opportunities to explore a breath of understanding that is open to a future of new understanding and possibilities. Questions do not always result in the change that people fear. The discussions they engender may also confirm present positions or offer nuanced understandings. What is truly troublesome is not the question but the engendered fear.
With their seemingly simple question, the magi become our spiritual teachers this Christmas season.
- Magi take journeys. In the spiritual life never allow yourself to get rooted. Always be ready to go on a journey. Recall Abram and Sarah moving from Ur of the Chaldeans to Haran. Israel journeying through the desert to the Promised Land. The Holy Family going into Egypt. But most importantly be willing to follow the teaching of the fearful and murderous King Herod, “Go and search diligently….”
- Magi ask questions. Ask reflective questions.
- As wise as they may be, magi are humble enough to ask for directions. Ask for directions along your spiritual journey.
- Magi are open to changing their mind. When the magi realized Herod was not a good resource, they returned home by another route. They innately knew the wisdom of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman: “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” Be open and willing to change your mind often.
The star of Bethlehem was not necessarily an extraordinary event of planets or stars. It may well have been an ordinary celestial occurrence seen through the extraordinary eyes of magi. Follow their example being aware that marginalized, imprisoned and disposed of is what was done to the questioning Jesus of Nazareth.