A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday Liturgy
BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (# 6)
Epiphany, Year A – January 2, 2005
“The Gifts of the Magi”
Is 60:1-6 // Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6 // Mt 2:1-12
I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS
Today’s feast of Epiphany reminds me of O. Henry’s classic story, “The Gift of the Magi” about a poverty stricken, but self-sacrificing married couple, Dell and Jim. Out of deep love, they sold their most precious possessions in order to present to each other the best Christmas gift one could ever give. Dell sold the beautiful hair that rippled down to her knees like brown cascades to buy Jim a grand platinum chain for his gold watch heirloom. Jim sold his gold watch to get money for a set of beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jeweled rims, to adorn the gorgeous tresses of Dell. Jim ended up with a precious chain for a watch that had been sold for her sake. Dell received the coveted adornments for her beautiful tresses that had been unselfishly sacrificed for him. O. Henry concluded the beautiful story of self-giving in the following words:
The magi, as you know, were wise men – wonderfully wise men – who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones … And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in the last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are the wisest. Everywhere they are the wisest. They are the magi.
Today’s Gospel reading (Mt 2:1-12) depicts the journey of magi from the east in search for the King of the Jews. They had seen his star at its rising and wanted to do him homage. The insidious King Herod met them privately and told them hypocritically to look for the child that he too may adore him. The star guided the magi and preceded them until it stopped over the place where the child was. According to the evangelist Matthew: “On entering the home they saw the child and Mary his mother. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh” (Mt 2:11). The magi were a caste of wise men variously associated with interpretation of dreams, Zoroastrianism, and astrology. In Church tradition, their number settled at three, deduced from the three gifts that they brought to the Child or from the belief that they represented the three races of those who came to Christ and welcomed his Gospel: the Semites, the Black and the Indo-Germanic.
In Matthew’s Gospel, the magi from the East who came to do homage to the King of the Jews represented the fulfillment of the messianic prophecy: “The wealth of the nations shall be brought to you … All from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord” (Is 60:5-6) // “The kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts; the kings of Arabia and Seba shall bring him tribute. All kings shall pay him homage, all nations shall serve him” (Ps 72:1-11). Eventually, the Christian tradition gleaned a deeper meaning from the threefold gift of the magi to the Child in Bethlehem. According to St. Irenaeus (c. 135-202): “Myrrh signified that he, for our mortal human race, would die and be buried; gold, that he was the King whose reign would be without end; incense, that he was God who came to make himself known in Judea, and to show himself to those who never sought him.”
Moreover, the modern-day writer and apostolic worker, Dorothy Day, perceived the dimension of oblation and reparation in the magi’s gifts. She asserted: “Even the gifts that the wise men brought have in themselves an obscure recompense and atonement for what would follow later in this Child’s life. For they brought gold, the king’s emblem, to make up for the crown of thorns that he would wear; they offered incense, the symbol of praise, to make up for the mockery and spitting; they gave him myrrh, to heal and soothe.”
In the context of the Christmas-Epiphany liturgy which celebrates the stupendous manifestation of the Father’s love in his beloved Son Jesus, born of the ever-virgin Mother Mary, the enchanting figures of the magi from the East offer us a lesson on gift–giving. In her article, “Journeying with the Magi” (cf. The WORD Among Us, Advent 2003, p. 50), Louise Perrotta exhorts us: “The magi presented Jesus with a sampling of the ancient world’s costliest gifts. They gave the best. Finding much to ponder in these offerings, the Church Fathers often interpreted them as symbols of what every Christian is called to present to God: the gold of charity and good works, the incense of prayer and faith, the myrrh of purifying suffering and belief in the resurrection. During this season, we might consider how to make such an offering in our own lives. While it is always right to turn to God for what we need, this season encourages us to find ways of giving him what we value most, beginning with our very selves. As we give ourselves to Jesus, we will find ourselves side by side with the magi.”
The beautiful homage of the gift-giving Magi as they encountered the Christ-Child in Bethlehem, together with Mary his Mother, gently leads us to the divine gift-giver: the loving God the Father who loved the world so much that the gave his only Son that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but may have eternal life (cf. Jn 3:16). The Son of God, Jesus, the Word made flesh, is the paramount GIFT – the Father’s gift to us – the sign of his great love for us. Indeed, the Son of God made flesh, born as a child, is the most powerful sign of the Father’s will to bring us salvation. As the Christmas liturgy proclaims: “UNTO US A CHILD IS BORN! UNTO US A SON IS GIVEN!” He is the sign of the Father’s marvelous love and the means of salvation. The Child who is the Father’s gift to us is JESUS, humankind’s model of ultimate self-giving.
One of my students, now an ordained priest, remarked: “When we give anything, we give part of ourselves. When we give our self, we give everything we have – past, present and future. Perhaps in no other book of the Bible is this most explicitly stated than in Job. Until Job’s suffering became personal and involved his own self, Satan always has a loophole, a reason to question his integrity. And this is what God intended. He refused to be a mere spectator in human affairs. He wanted to participate, to be a part of it. This is the tremendous mystery of Incarnation; this is the beautiful mystery of Christmas; this is the profound mystery of the Eucharist. They are all a definite participation of Jesus the Christ in our human affairs in a self-giving manner. Thus, in these moments, Jesus gives us a model of self-giving. He shows us the way to this path of love.”
Indeed, the celebration of Christmas and the Eucharist, the actualized memorial of Christ’s death on the cross, is unique because it is the celebration of the life-giving Jesus who gives himself for us and for the whole world. The joy of self-giving which Jesus has begun at his birth is continued in the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, he continues to give himself to us that we too, may become bread broken and shared – the cup poured out and offered for the life of the world. Our celebration of the birth of Christ and his manifestation to the nations in the Christmas-Epiphany mystery … our sharing in the Eucharistic feasting … our service of his kingdom of justice and peace should configure us more and more to him, the ultimate model of self-giving. In effect, Jesus the Savior, is for humankind the perfect gift and gift-giver of all.
The biblical scholar, Eugene Maly leaves us with the following words to ponder: “The Christian Epiphany took place not as an act of divine self-satisfaction, but for us. God hoped that we would be amazed at it all, that we would react like the Magi and give him ourselves as gifts, that we would be awestruck by this supreme act of love and begin to love him in return. Will he be disappointed?”
II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART
A. What does “the gift of the Magi” mean to us personally?
B. How do we imitate the Magi gift-givers? Above all, how do we imitate Jesus Savior, the perfect gift and gift-giver of all?
C. Do we intend to give ourselves to the Christ Child as “gift”? How and in what way?
III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD
Leader: Loving Father, in Jesus, your beloved Son, you have given us the greatest Christmas gift and the stupendous model of self-giving. Like the magi from the East, we present to you today the gold of our charity and good works, the incense of our prayer and faith, the myrrh of our bitter suffering that leads to glorious resurrection. May we be filled with awe and gratitude for the tremendous love you have manifested in Jesus Christ, your Child. By incarnating the Christmas-Eucharistic mystery in our life of service and caring, especially for the poorest of the poor, may we share Jesus, your life-giving gift to the nations, in a perpetual epiphany of love. We thank you with humble and grateful hearts for Jesus. He is our Lord and Savior, now and forever,
IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD
The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.
“They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” (Mt 2:11)
V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION
A. ACTION PLAN: Prepare a “gift” for one lonely person in most need of “the gift of the magi” and the gift of love of Jesus, the greatest Gift and Gift-giver
B. ACTION PLAN: To celebrate the Epiphany of God’s love for us and in view of a more meaningful celebration of the Year of the Eucharist, make an effort to spend an hour in Eucharistic Adoration. Visit the PDDM WEB site (www.pddm.us) for the EUCHARISTIC ADORATION THROUGH THE LITURGICAL YEAR (# 6): a weekly Pastoral Tool for the Year of the Eucharist.
Prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret Tapang PDDM
PIAE DISCIPULAE DIVINI MAGISTRI
SISTER DISCIPLES OF THE DIVINE MASTER
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