Jesus came to save every one of us
By Father Paul Turner
Catholic Key Scripture Columni
For complete daily Scripture texts, click here.
The Good News for the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord,
Sunday, January 2, 2000
Isaiah 60: 1-6
Psalms 72: 2, 7-8, 10-13
Ephesians 3: 2-3a, 5-6
Matthew 2: 1-12
and the The Baptism of the Lord
Sunday, January 9, 2000
Isaiah 42: 1-4, 6-7
Psalms 29: 1a, 2, 3ac-4, 3b, 9b-10
Acts 10: 34-38
Mark 1: 7-11
Christmas makes Christians. People who don't go to church, people who pray only in emergencies, people who pay little attention to their families, people who want money more than heaven, people who satisfy themselves more than others, people who do not give to charities: They all become Christians on Christmas. Wars cease. Sores heal. Stores close. Doors open. Christmas makes Christians.
This power of Jesus' birth became evident immediately. The events we celebrate in the weeks after Christmas affirm the early impact of this mystery: the visit of the magi and the baptism of Jesus. Both events proclaim the message of jubilee. Salvation comes to all nations and to the lowliest of peoples.
The visit of the magi proclaims the inclusion of all nations in the plan of God. A traditional hymn recalls this incident, "We Three Kings of Orient Are." The title is misleading. Matthew says there were three gifts (2:1-12) but never how many people carried them. He calls the visitors "magi" - wonderworkers, or prophets or astrologers. Not kings. Art and song have upgraded them to royalty because of next week's first reading and psalm. Isaiah prophecied, "Kings (shall walk) by your shining radiance" (60:1-6). Psalm 72 desired, "May the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts. May all kings fall down before him." Although Matthew did not call them kings we think of them that way in fulfillment of these prophecies.
The visit of the magi announces that Jesus was born not just for those who inherited the promise to Abraham, but for those with no direct experience of Judaism's God. Everyone held common spiritual questions, but those who lacked the covenant tradition - practitioners of magic, believers in wonders, students of the stars - these too were called to the manger. The typical Christmas crib in homes and churches draws together the shepherds from Luke's Gospel with the magi of Matthew's, to show that both Jew and Gentile came to adore the newborn savior. In some artistic traditions, the ox and the ass, who appear in a prophecy in the first chapter of Isaiah and not in either Gospel account of Jesus' birth, also represent the Jew and Gentile called to adore. The inclusion of Gentiles in the new covenant is clearly affirmed in the second reading: "Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel" (Ephesians 3:6).
This theme of inclusion recurs the following Sunday, the Baptism of the Lord. The readings for this day may differ from parish to parish because the lectionary offers two different sets this year. One of the optional passages especially places the baptism of Jesus in this same context (Acts of the Apostles 10:34-38).
The story concerns the baptism of Cornelius and his household. While at prayer, Peter received a vision to include the Gentiles in the proclamation of the Gospel. A knock at the door interrupted his meditation. There stood messengers from the household of the Gentile Cornelius. Peter accompanied them to his home, asked his intentions, and catechized him and his household.
The details of the story sketch out many elements of conversion included in the catechumenate today: sponsorship, crossing a threshold, prayer, catechesis and baptism. The passage offered for the Baptism of the Lord is lifted from the instruction Peter gives the household. The reason it may appear on this feast is that it refers to Jesus' baptism as an anointing with the Holy Spirit and power. The baptism of Jesus by John is recounted more often than almost any other New Testament story. It appears in all four Gospels and in this passage from Acts.
Peter introduces the account saying, "God shows no partiality." He means that Jewish believers will receive no partiality over Gentile believers. After the baptism, Jesus continued his ministry, which Peter describes this way: "He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him."
Thus both Sundays will proclaim this great message of inclusion: God sent Jesus as savior of all the nations. The promise made to Abraham is open to all. In his ministry, Jesus manifested this promise by doing good and healing the oppressed.
At Christmas some Christians feel superior to those who seem to become Christian only at Christmas. But the next two Sundays remind us all that Jesus came not for the self-righteous, but for everyone. The jubilee doors are open wide.
Father Paul Turner is pastor of St. John Francis Regis Parish, Kansas City.