Why Three Kings?


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/browser):
Psalms 72; 147:1-11, Isaiah 49:1-7, Revelation 21:22-27, Matthew 12:14-21
Epiphany readings: 
Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12

Today we celebrate Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles. Traditionally the gentiles are represented by the Magi. The gospel of Matthew tells us wise men followed a star from the east, paid tribute to the infant Christ, and returned home by a different route because a dream warned them King Herod was plotting against the newly-born messiah. Most nativity scenes depict them as three kings, though there is no scriptural basis for their rank or count other than the number of gifts.

Maybe they’re better off dropping the king bit and sticking to being just wise. Psalm 72 describes what it means for God’s presence to be felt throughout the gentile world, and kings don’t fare well. They bow before the presence, offer tribute, and oppressive ones are crushed. On the other hand the poor, needy, and oppressed are mentioned favorably ten times in this twenty-verse psalm. God judges them with justice; he defends, delivers, redeems, helps, pities, and saves them. Jesus’s message of the first being last and the last being first doesn’t originate with him; it is a natural evolution of the messages of the psalmists and the prophets. Jesus is the one who brought it home.

A mainstay of modern Roman Catholic social teaching is a preferential option for the poor. In other words, Christians are obligated to serve those who are impoverished financially and/or spiritually. Theologians of other denominations share similar teachings. Depending on our worldview, how we choose to meet that obligation can take many forms. Christ has trusted us with a duty, and also trusts us to determine the best means to execute that duty. Sometimes that means we can disagree about how we should serve. What it never means is starting from an attitude where the poor – of pocket or spirit – are a nuisance, morally lacking, or lesser than anyone else. Whatsoever we do for the least among us, we do also for Christ. We are to be kings bowing to babes.

The Magi’s gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh represented royalty, holiness, and death. Jesus re-gifted them to us as humility, grace, and life regardless of our worthiness. Let’s pay it forward.

Comfort: God’s love is for all, not just the privileged or perfect.

Challenge: What programs in your local community help the poor? How can you help them?

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for all I have. I will not forget that you ask me to share it with those who have less. Amen.

Discussion: We are often distrustful or uncomfortable with people who have significantly more or less material wealth than we do. Why do you think that is?

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