Sunday, January 07, 2007

Belated Epiphany Musings

Gerald O'Collins has a piece in this month's Tablet on Matthew's account of the Magi. His argument is that:-

In the way he tells the story of the Magi, Matthew inserts at least three contrasts: opportunities lost or taken, human wickedness overcome by the loving goodness of God, and a birth that prefigures a violent death.

Under "lost opportunities" O'Collins lists the Magi themselves as the first Gentile outsiders who, unlike many of Matthew's fellow Jews, attain faith in Jesus. Another example is the centurion at the cross whose confession identifies Jesus as God's Son.

However, in the wider context of the whole gospel, a daughter of a ruler (of the synagogue) receives Jesus' healing touch, while the daughter of a proselyte is cured. In the synagogue, a man's withered hand is restored. And the disciples who are after all Jewish, are the recipients of Jesus' teaching from the Sermon on the Mount on through long speeches. They gradually form a community around Jesus praying the Lord's Prayer and learning about community discipline.

Thus it might be better to speak of the Magi intimating Jesus' royal status by doing him homage. Their behavior contrasts to that of Herod. The Magi infer what becomes explicit in the inscription over the cross. Matthew's Herod is the foil for Jesus' kingship. The Magi's veneration of the baby anticipates the exact same behavior from a leper and others in the gospel. They provide not contrast but example.

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