January 6, 2013 – Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord
The story of the Magi — the Three Kings — is one of the most endearing and most familiar to all Catholics. Because they brought gifts, it is also the focus of many stewardship commentaries. In addition, it may be one of the more misunderstood stories around the birth of Jesus.
Epiphany is a word with Greek origins that means “manifestation.” We celebrate Epiphany because it represents the realization (related to the appearance and visit of the Magi to the Christ child) that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, for the Gentiles as well as the Jews.
The first reading from Isaiah makes reference to light and glory and shining radiance. It also forecasts our vision of the visit of the Magi, declaring “Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the LORD.” From the scores of paintings and books and movies which portray the visit of the Magi we can all visualize the camels and dromedaries and gifts of gold and frankincense.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the second reading, also contains a reference which enlightens and heartens all who practice stewardship as a way of life. Speaking to the communities in Asia Minor, Paul reminds them, “You have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for your benefit, namely, that the mystery was made known to me by revelation.” The word “stewardship” does not appear often in scripture, although the concept is present throughout, and especially in the parables of Jesus. As is the case with much of scripture, Biblical scholars do not universally agree on authors. Nevertheless, all agree that the letter to the Ephesians was written in Greek, and if by Paul most likely in 60-62 AD.
In the original Greek Paul wrote oikonomia which has multiple meanings and translations, including the “management of another’s property” and “administration” and “responsibility” and “stewardship.” The point is that Paul uses this term to speak of a grace he has received from God, making it clear that stewardship involves divine is how we use the gifts we have been given.
The visit of the Magi to the child Jesus is reported only in Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew never states that there were three — that is an assumption that has been made based upon the three gifts. Traditional representations of their visit place them in the stable where Jesus was born. Matthew, on the other hand, makes reference to the Magi visiting the Holy Family in their house — which would imply they might have come to Nazareth, not to Bethlehem.
In point of fact, it does not matter how we interpret the specifics of the visit of these men “from the east.” The stewardship aspects of this story present us a real view of what is expected of us as stewards. The visitors from the East made valuable gifts to the Holy Family — gifts with a cost that may have represented a sacrifice on their part. Furthermore, the gifts were given at a time when the Holy Family had a need — they were preparing to flee to Egypt. The generosity of the Magi may have been the instrument which allowed them to do that. Being from a distant land, these “wise men” acknowledge that Christ is the Savior of all lands and all peoples. Near the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us that nations will be judged not just on how they treat Him, but on how we treat His brothers and sisters in need — a call to stewardship.