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Lectio Divina - Epiphany

7th January 2024




Adoration of the Magi

Giotto Di Bondone c.1303

 

Giotto di Bondone (c.1266 – 1337) was born in a small town near Florence, Italy. He is regarded as the father of the Renaissance. The great revolution made by Giotto is in the representation of space: we can admire examples of "perspective" and the rendering of the third dimension, breaking from the stylised and rigid traditions of the Byzantine art that dominated his time. Adoration of the Magi is part of a series ‘Scenes from the Life of Christ’, frescos that Giotto painted over two years from 1303 – 1305, found in the Scrovegni Chaple of Padua, Italy. The Chapel was acquired by the City of Padova in 1880, and the vulnerable frescoes were subjected to several specialized restoration operations. From the 1970s until today, the state of the building, the quality of the air… and the state of conservation of the frescoes themselves have all been subjected to careful study and monitoring.


Halley's Comet appeared in 1301 and served as a model for Giotto's 'Star of Bethlehem'. The European Space Agency named its mission to Halley's Comet in 1986, 'Giotto' in recognition of the fact that Giotto made the first 'scientific' drawing of the comet recorded in history. The next chance to view Halley’s Comet will be in 2061 on its regular 76-year journey around the sun.

 

Lectio

Matthew 2: 1-11

 

Jerusalem Bible:

1 After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east. 2 "Where is the infant king of the Jews?" they asked. "We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage." 3 When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem. 4 He called together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 "At Bethlehem in Judaea," they told him "for this is what the prophet wrote: 6 And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, you are by no means the least among the leaders of Judah, for out of you will come a leader who will shepherd my people Israel." 7 Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared, 8 and sent them on to Bethlehem. "Go and find out all about the child," he said "and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage." 9 Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward, and halted over the place where the child was. 10 The sight of the star filled them with delight. 11. Going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12. But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod and returned to their own country by a different way.

 

New American Standard Bible:

1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: 6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’” 7 Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” 9 After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on ahead of them until it came to a stop over the place where the Child was to be found. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 After coming into the house, they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And after being warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.

 

English Standard Version:

1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 6 ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” 7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

 

Meditatio

Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod. 

These are the only words Matthew uses to speak of Christmas. He does want to give us the meaning of his birth and and that is told in the story of the Magi, a sort of introduction to his whole gospel.

 

"Where is the infant king of the Jews?"

The two titles are brought together: King Herod and King of the Jews. From the first page of his gospel, there is a royal crown in dispute. Who is the real king of the Jews?  Jesus will be given the title at the end of the gospel: Above his head was placed the charge against him; it read: This is Jesus the King of the Jews. Matt 27:37.

 

The Wise men from the East. They belonged to a class of scholars, undoubtedly pious, they knew that a king was promised to the Jews and they were waiting for him (Numbers 24:17)[1]. At the appearance of a star, they set out to pay him homage.

 

There is a larger significance to the star which St. Peter explains when speaking about faith: And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19). This star represents the light, the grace the action of God in the heart and mind of every person, guiding them towards Christ.

 

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. The wise men probably expected to find joy when they arrived in Jerusalem; that the people were not waiting for the Lord and that it caused trouble makes us see the sad state of the people Israel. This is one of the darkest periods of Israel’s history, the cruel Herod, called the great, an Edomite, rules Jerusalem, in violation of Deuteronomy (17:15)[2]. Herod would die a year after the massacre of the children in Bethlehem.

 

At the heart of the Epiphany story are two attitudes found throughout the gospel On one hand, that of refusal: the Jewish political and religious leaders. They should have been the first to recognise the Messiah. They are afraid, worried… they don’t move, they will seek from the start to kill Jesus. And the wise men by contrast; welcome the sign, though less prepared, they recognise the Messiah, and they seek him, they move! Far from worry, they are filled with joy! We already seem to hear the end of Matthew’s gospel: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19).

 

…they fell down and worshiped him. Matthew is also showing Christians of Jewish origin why the Church found itself composed in the majority by Christians of pagan origin, when God was so strongly committed to Israel. Matthew shows in Jesus, the awaited Saviour who comes for everyone, that the new Israel is made up of all those who, Jew or pagan, prostrate themselves before Jesus. This was already announced by all the prophesies, such as Isaiah 60:1-6, and Psalm 71 that are part of the readings for the Epiphany. Epiphany is the feast for all who do not know Jesus, who’s faith is different from ours, and whom God loves, and whom God enlightens, and whom God draws to himself by his grace.

 

Opening their treasures, they offered him gifts. 

Worship is one of the essential functions of the Church, true worship is to consecrate to God the first fruits, the best you have to offer. Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the first fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine (Proverbs 3:9-10).

 

…and returned to their own country by a different way.

Finally, the encounter with Christ, transforms one’s life, another route opens up – what Good News.

 

ORATIO

Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom, Lead Thou me on;The night is dark, and I am far from home, Lead Thou me on.Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see the distant scene;one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou shouldst lead me on;I loved to choose and see my path; but now lead Thou me on.I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears, pride ruled my will;remember not past years.So long Thy power hath blessed me, sure it still Will lead me on.O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till the night is gone;And with the morn those angel faces smile,Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.

  • Saint John Henry Newman

  

CONTEMPLATIO

 

Inspiration: The journey of the Magi guided by a star.

Silence is God’s first language; everything else is a poor translation.

- Saint John of the Cross

 

 

Inspiration: The Magi's search for the newborn King.

The outward work can never be small if the inward one is great, and the outward work can never be great or good if the inward is small or of little worth.

 – Meister Eckhart

 

 

Inspiration: The act of worship and offering by the Magi.

Prayer is an act of love; words are not needed. We must hold fast to God through love, for love is the indwelling and life of God.

- Saint Teresa of Avila

 

 

Inspiration: The transformative journey and altered route of the Wise Men.

For each one of us, there is only one thing necessary: to fulfil our own destiny, according to God's will, to be what God wants us to be.

- Thomas Merton

 


[1] I see him but not in the present, I perceive him but not close at hand: a star is emerging from Jacob, a sceptre is rising from Israel.

[2] Be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite.

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