This is the time of the year when people make predictions about the future. It’s a time to look back and look forward.
Our local newspaper on Friday in Hudson County featured the predictions of a local psychic about the future of our mayor, our governor, our senator and a variety of local politicians. Psychics are big this time of year.
The host of PBS’s Newshour the other night asked his two experts to talk about the big picture ahead. “What does it look like?” They talked about the “Tea Party,” possible roll-backs in the health care program, the new Republican majority in Congress. That’s about as far as they went. I would guess the cable news channels talked about the same things from even a narrower perspective: politics and economics–American politics and the American economic picture.
Something’s missing. Our “big picture” is really a small picture. We seem to lack of larger vision of life.
We live in a secular age, an age of “expressive individualism.”(Charles Taylor) One of the drawbacks of the secular mind is its tendancy to be small-minded, to concentrate on the here and now, on what we see and do, on our personal interests. Even believers are part of a secular age and share its tendancies.
The secular age needs the spark of revelation.
What about the mystery of the Epiphany we celebrate today? Can it bring sparks to secular minds?
Let’s take the gospel story of the Magi out of its Christmas card setting and ask what its all about. The Magi were strangers, people coming from afar, bringing gifts. They recognized the Child whom others did not see. Then, we may surmise, they brought news of him back to their own people and part of the world.
The other day I was talking to a young priest from my community in Kenya, an African who’s studying now in Chicago. He was asking me about the new media and how to reach others through it. He wants to learn as much as he can from us, but he also thinks that Africa has something to offer the world, and his church in Kenya as something to contribute to the church beyond it.
Is he the Magi coming to us today?
Matthew’s gospel is the only gospel with the story of the Magi. The gospel was written for Jewish Christians in Galilee and the neighboring areas and it emphasizes that Jesus came first to them. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” Jesus tells the Canaanite woman, a gentile pleading for a cure for her daughter. (Mt 15;24) “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” Jesus instructs the twelve as he sends them out earlier in his gospel. (Mt 10, 5)
Were these stories Matthew’s way to bolster the faith of Jewish Christians beset by a powerful Jewish orthodoxy that questioned their belief in Jesus Christ? Was Matthew’s story of the magi also a reminder that the gospel was meant for others besides them?
Jesus came to save all, even though his first ministry was to the Jews. God saves the world and his gifts and graces are in many peoples and places. He doesn’t save the few.
We live in a big world that’s meant to be one. It’s not a world to be ignored. Great gifts and burdens are there, gifts and burdens meant to be shared. An earthquake in Haiti, for example, is our tragedy too. A worldwide depression is our problem too. More and more, we tend to demonize the Muslim world. The Magi may have come from present day Iran or Yemen; two places we hardly view positively today.
We are tending to demonize immigrants in our own country today. Many of us are descendants of immigrants who came here with gifts and burdens. When they first arrived, those here often saw them only as burdens to this country. We know better.
The story of the Magi is not a sweet story about camels and men dressed in strange rich robes. It’s about the big picture, a picture we should see.