Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.” (Mt 2:7-8)
An epiphany is not a private vision; it is a public manifestation. As such it is an event for many or all to see. An epiphany may be distinguished from an apparition which, though perhaps for the encouragement of all, is often only seen by the eyes of one or the few. Further, when the Church speaks of an epiphany she means a specific biblical manifestation of Christ such as in the events of the Adoration of the Magi, the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, and the Miracle at Cana when the Blessed Mother introduced Jesus to the world through his first public miracle. These three particular manifestations are what we celebrate this day.
Hence it was a very selfish act of King Herod to try to keep the appearance of the star and the Messiah private. Herod the Great called the Wise Men to him in secret, sent them away in secret, and expected them to send him word in secret. Herod showed himself to not only misunderstand the gospel message – since he wanted to keep its appearance under a bushel basket (Mt 5:15) – but to be an adversary of the good news by keeping what was for all to himself and for his own sinister discretion and strategy. It may be that Herod wanted only at first to fulfill his kingly curiosity, but when he could not keep the Messianic appearance from becoming known and the Messiah had slipped through his grasp, his prideful stealth drove him to madness and any story he may have thought up to convince himself that he intended to honor the Christ was revealed to be diabolical plan in his heart by way of his horrific slaughter of the innocents (Mt 2:16-18).
This desire for a private showing of the good news was not limited to Herod the Great but was carried over to his son, Herod Antipas, who wanted to see Jesus perform some private sign (Lk 23:8). Jesus might have cunningly complied, offering Antipas a befitting private condemnation in the tradition of Daniel to Belshazzar (Dn 5:22-28), but Jesus did not come to the earth for private showings or private miracles or even private vengeance, but for a public ministry and a public sacrifice that would change the world utterly.
For this Feast of the Epiphany we acknowledge the public message of Jesus Christ. We place on our bulletin cover a work by the Florentine master Andrea del Sarto entitled The Journey of the Magi (1511). Del Sarto set the stage for other greats like Michelangelo, Raphael, and Da Vinci as he introduced the Mannerist style into the High Renaissance. Del Sarto retains the classical stances and architecture, yet his figures turn and lean in various directions in non-symmetrical groupings presenting a less balanced effect. This “manneristic” crowding and commotion coincides with our Gospel narrative which tells of how the arrival of the Magi made Herod and all Jerusalem “greatly troubled” (Mt 2:3).
For centuries now the gospel message has troubled the hearts and minds of many. What is meant to be news of salvation to all, is to some, who rebel against God, a constant frustration. We should never forget that just as with Herod the Great this frustration can turn to persecution on a whim. Yet in all circumstances we must be prepared to be a living epiphany to the world; luminaries of grace to those seeking the truth.
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services