The Epiphany of the Lord, Solemnity.

Behold, the Lord, the Mighty One, has come;
and kingship is in His grasp, and power and dominion. (Mal 5:1 and 1 Chr 29:12)

O God, Who on this day,
revealed Your Only Begotten Son to the nations
by the guidance of a star,
grant in Your mercy
that we, who know You already by faith,
may be brought to behold
the beauty of Your sublime glory.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You in
the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM (click for full Psalm)
Lord, every nation on earth will adore you. (72: 11).

SCRIPTURE EXCERPT (click for all readings)
“Brothers and sisters:
You have heard of the stewardship (οἰκονομίαν, oikonomian) of God’s grace
that was given to me for your benefit,
namely, that the mystery (μυστήριον, musterion)
was made known (ἐγνωρίσθη egnoristhe) to me by revelation.
It was not made known to people in other generations
as it has now been revealed
to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:
that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body,
and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel (Ephesians 3:2-6)”

And now for something completely different … somewhat. The yearly festival of Epiphany seems to generate the same question set year in, year out. Even a quick search in Google or a sampling of any number of blogs devoted to Sacred Scripture will yield questions such as, ‘What exactly was the star’s astronomical position?’ ‘Who are the magi – (a good one as history provides ample evidence for studying this question in at least 4 specific directions [check last year’s blog entry])?’ ‘What happened to the gifts when the travelers from the East left?’ Responses to these and a number of other questions generate a varied intensity and a range of passion that engages some and turns others off. This is why another approach, something somewhat different might help with this Solemnity’s Sacred Texts. The approach is taken from Origen of Alexandria († 254), one of the Christianity’s greatest thinkers and interpreters of Sacred Scripture, who often said, ‘Let Scripture interpret Scripture.’ In other words, from a Liturgical point of view the Church ‘groups’ various texts together to form essentially a singular proclamation of the Word, a Word Who became flesh for the sake of our salvation. When the Sunday Proclamation is approached in this manner, the listener realizes that at the bottom line, the Word is leading me to a deeper knowledge of the Person Jesus (Christology) and the consequent action of how I am to follow Him as a member of His Body willing to be changed (Discipleship). Salvation grounded in and made possible by the Person Jesus Who calls me to follow Him through a life of daily conversion is what the Magi are all about. It is what Isaiah, the Psalms and Saint Paul are all about. How are these connections made? ‘Let Scripture interpret Scripture’ – and this Sunday, let Saint Paul be the guide.

In his Letter to the Christians at Ephesus, Saint Paul speaks of stewardship (οἰκονομίαν, oikonomian), mystery (μυστήριον, musterion) and [making] known (ἐγνωρίσθη egnoristhe). These 3 terms offer guidance into the Person Jesus, how to follow and the gift of Salvation that are vital for anyone attempting to live the life of Jesus Christ.
Among a few ways in which Saint Paul views his life, this section from Ephesians centers on stewardship. Many readers probably have heard the word stewardship and no doubt many have heard it as nothing more than a ruse for increasing Church contributions. Biblically, the English word stewardship translates the Greek word οἰκονομία (oikonomia) which is also the origin of the English word economy. The Greek word οἰκονομία is actually a compound of οἰκος (oikos, meaning “house” or “home”) and νόμος (nomos, meaning “law as in a proper way of living”). In short, οἰκονομία means “household order” or the “good functioning and living of family life.” As all of us know, family living requires order so that the lives of all within the home may mature and flourish. “Home order” essentially requires an approach to life that is relational: knowing and living that I am connected to all in the family and that family life cannot be about “me” nor can family life revolve around the great and almighty “me.” By definition, the “proper way of home living” requires sacrifice, anticipating the needs of one another and prudence (the virtue that helps “me” to stop having to have the last word, even though “I” am right, of course!). From a Pauline perspective, this order is vital because it provides the environment for the “mystery” “to be made known” and for this it is imperative to have a proper understanding of “mystery” from a biblical and theological perspective.
Admittedly, the word mystery gets thrown around quite easily in religious conversation. For many, it almost seems as a ‘catechetical life line’ – when I do not know an answer, mystery not only works but also excuses me from any further work, study and contemplation. Sloth (laziness) wins again! While there certainly is a dimension of mystery that accepts the reality of the unknown, its usage in the Scriptures and in the theological economy (household order) is not first and foremost about the unknown. μυστήριον (mysterion) as used in early Christianity is first and foremost an ‘unfolding of Who is known.’ In other words, μυστήριον (especially as it will be used to speak of Sacraments and the Church) presupposes a connection, a relationship – an encounter with the Person Jesus. He is known through the baptismal gift of Faith; Faith that essentially expresses the relationship Jesus has with a person and all persons. This relationship is meant to unfold (a key word in a proper understanding of μυστήριον), deepen and mature through the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work in one’s life and one’s willingness to embrace the daily Cross of ongoing conversion.
But a word of caution is necessary here. When μυστήριον grounds Christian living in the ‘unfolding of Who is known,’ known does not refer to ‘a piece of knowledge.’ Known is not a mindless, rote catechism ‘answer’ to the question “Who is Jesus?” The mystery that “was made known (ἐγνωρίσθη egnoristhe)” is knowledge that is experiential. One knows mystery in the sense of experience; in other words a person experiences mystery. ἐγνωρίσθη (egnoristhe) as Saint Paul uses the verb here, comes from a family of Greek verbs rooted in the verb γινώσκω (ginosko). There are a few Greek verbs that are easily translated into English as “to know.” Many of these verbs convey the sense of ‘acquiring information or knowledge for a particular purpose.’ γινώσκω (ginosko) is in a league all of its own when it comes to ‘knowledge.’ γινώσκω is the knowledge of love. γινώσκω is the experience of other person as person inviting me to live relationally. γινώσκω is an experience of the other that goes to the very core of one’s being and moves one to change, growth and love. Countless episodes in the Gospels alone record disciples ‘coming to know’ Jesus, for example Luke 24:35, “Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” “Was made known” is a life-altering event for the disciples and it is the same verb, γινώσκω.
So where does all of this leave us on the Solemnity of the Epiphany? With our friends, the travelers from the East, Epiphany is not just an annual celebration but also an event – an opportunity and a time for Jesus “to be made known” in our lives. Like the Magi who entered the house, Epiphany summons us to the “House of the Lord” wherein we discover an order, a harmony – a proper way of living that disposes us to encounter the Person Jesus. In the Face of such a person, we drop to our knees, we lie prostrate in adoration, wonder, awe and worship knowing (γινώσκω) the Person before us is our Savior Who desires nothing other that to heal, to save and to love each of us as His Father’s precious little-one. What more can we do that give Him the gift of our lives?