In the week following the Epiphany, the daily gospel readings at Mass, from all four evangelists, are reflections on the mystery of the Incarnation of our Lord, who welcomed the Magi at his birth. Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh, reveals himself to all the nations; he is Savior of all.
The mystery of the Epiphany, unfortunately, can suffer from the same saccharine interpretation as the mystery of Christmas. Our gospel readings this week remind us how hard and challenging the mission to the gentiles will be. When we follow Jesus we meet a world we do not know or understand.
Monday: Matthew, 4, 12-17, 23-25. Jesus never left the land of his birth during his lifetime, yet Matthew’s gospel suggests that his entrance into Galilee after John the Baptist’s arrest fulfilled the promise of salvation for gentiles as well as Jews. He enters “heathen Galilee,” Matthew says. “A land in darkness has seen a great light.”
In Jesus’ time Galilee was settled by a mixed population of Jews and gentiles and so it was indeed a land Jesus wanted to reach. Gentiles were among the “ great crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan that followed him.”
Tuesday, Mark 6,34-44; (cf. Mark 8, 1-10) Mark’s gospel records two miracles of the loaves, one on each side of the Sea of Galilee. In Mark’s gospel the Sea of Galilee symbolically divides the two peoples, Jews from Gentiles, and so Jesus by crossing that body of water brings his message to another people. Some commentators ask: Is the miracle of the loaves on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee a sign that the Bread of Life is also to be shared by the gentile world?
Wednesday: Mark 6, 45-52 The story of the storm at sea immediately follows the miracle of the bread. Is it a sign of the challenge disciples face as they follow Jesus into an unknown future? Human understanding fails before the wisdom and power of God, which can be like a storm at sea, leaving disciples afraid and doubtful. Even signs given by God can lose their meaning. “They were completely astounded. They had not understood the incident of the loaves. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened.” (Mark 6, 52)
Thursday: Luke 4,14-22. Luke reports that Jesus returned to Nazareth in the course of ministry and in the synagogue they “were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” But “his own” turn from amazement to rejection, Luke reports. Jesus must face the scandal of those close to him who do not believe.
Friday: Luke 5, 12-16. The leper who is cleansed is one of Luke’s classic examples of the power of God’s mercy. Not only does he experience healing for himself, but then proclaims God’s unfailing mercy in Jesus to others. “ The report about him spreads all the more and great crowds assembled to listen to him and be cured of their ailments.” Jesus will be known as we experience his mercy.
Saturday: John 3, 22-30 John the Baptist defers to Jesus before his disciples. “He must increase and I must decrease.” John’s humility is an example for all the disciples of Jesus. “I am not the Christ,” just a voice, John says of himself.
The reading prepares us for the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus which concludes the Christmas season. In the waters of baptism we share in all the mysteries of Jesus. They nourish us with eternal life.
The First Letter of John is also read each day this week, reminding us that Jesus came in the flesh and is truly human and truly divine. In his humanity he loved humanity; like him we must love each other as human beings, frail and weak as we are.
I’m leading a retreat for seminarians this week at Daylesford Abbey, outside Philadelphia. Pray for us. We will be reflecting on these readings and the prayers of the liturgy. We remember two important saints in the American church this week: St Elizabeth Seton and St. John Neumann. Wonderful examples of holiness. John Neumann, of course, is a good example for young men hoping to become priests.