Readings for Epiphany Sunday: Is. 60:1-6; Ps. 72: 1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13; Eph. 3:2-3a, 5-6; Mt. 2: 1-12
Lately we’ve been hearing a lot of:
- Make America great again!”
- “God bless America – land of the free and home of the brave!”
- American Exceptionalism.
- “U.S.A., U.S.A.!”
- “America’s the greatest country in the world.”
- “America’s the world’s indispensable nation.”
- Collin Kaepernick should stand for the national anthem.
Additionally, our “leaders” have decided to ignore the world’s best and wisest minds by rejecting climate science and its warning about the greatest threat the human race has ever faced.
I mean hyper-patriotism and rejection of wise men (and women) seem to be the order of the day. And it has its religious dimension as well: it’s as if even USian Christians actually believe that God loves them more than Syrians, Mexicans, Iraqis, or Ethiopians. It’s as if God loves Christians more than Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists or Jews. Witness Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s pick for National Security Advisor. He has described Islam itself and its 1.7 billion followers as a “vicious cancer” that has to be excised. In Flynn’s little mind, the wisdom of that Great Religion is completely ignored.
The message of today’s celebration of Jesus’ Epiphany contradicts all of that – the hyper-patriotism, the othering of foreigners, and any attempt to fit the divine into narrow religious categories. Today’s readings challenge Jesus-followers to grow up – to transcend our blind ethnocentrism, recognize the truth of science, expand our horizons and at last become citizens of the world.
Remember: the word “epiphany” means the appearance or manifestation of God – a revelation of who God really is. Accordingly, today’s feast recalls the time when wise men (1st century scientists) from the East recognized in Jesus the long-awaited manifestation of the Universal God announced in today’s reading from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah and today’s responsorial Psalm 72 tell us clearly that God is not what ethnocentric believers expected or even wanted. S/he loves everyone equally, not just Jews, much less USians.
That’s part of why Herod “and all Jerusalem with him” were “troubled” when they unexpectedly met the travelers who were seeking the world-centric and cosmic-centered manifestation of God that Isaiah had foreseen. The God Herod and the Jerusalem establishment knew was like the one worshipped by “America-first” Usians. He loved and favored Jews, the Hebrew language, and the Holy Land. He was pleased by Jewish customs and worship marked by animal sacrifice and lots of blood.
So Herod and Jerusalem were “troubled” when the foreigners came seeking the Palestinian address of a newborn king. The astrologers claimed that the very cosmos (the Star!) had revealed God’s Self to them even though they were not Jews. Evidently, the wise men had cosmic-centered consciousness. They realized God not only transcended themselves and their countries, but planet earth itself. All creation somehow spoke of God.
The prophet Isaiah, Psalm 72, and Paul’s letter to the Ephesians agree with the Wise Men. All of them speak of a Divine Being who is universal, not belonging to a particular nation or religion. This God is recognizable and intelligible to all nations regardless of their language or culture. The Divine One brings light to the thick darkness which causes us to limit God to privileged nations, races, and classes. The universal God brings peace and justice and champions of the poor, oppressed, lowly and afflicted. The newly manifested deity leads the rich (like the three astronomers) to redistribute their wealth to the poor (like Jesus and his peasant parents). This God wants all to have their fair share.
Matthew’s story says that Jesus manifested such a God. Jesus was the complete revelation of the God of peace and social justice – a world-centered, a cosmic-centered God.
Herod’s and Jerusalem’s response? Kill him! A universal God like that threatened Jerusalem’s Temple and priesthood. The Epiphany meant that such a God was not to be found there exclusively. This God would not be tied down to time or place. What then would become of priestly status, temple treasure, the Jerusalem tourism industry?
Epiphany also threatened Herod’s position. Recognizing a divinity who led the rich to transfer their treasure to the poor threatened class divisions. A God on the side of the poor would embolden the lazy and unclean to rebel against those who used religion to keep the under-classes in line and resigned to their lot in life.
No, there could only be one solution: ignore Nature’s cosmic message, present a friendly face to these stupid foreigners, derive the crucial information from them, and then kill off as many impoverished babies as possible hoping in the process to stop God’s threatening, unacceptable Self-disclosure.
Symbolically (and lamentably), Herod’s and Jerusalem’s response to the “troubling” cosmic-consciousness of the Eastern wise men mirrors that of our culture and church. Both keep us at the stage of childish ego-centrism – or at best, at the stage of ethno-centrism, which makes us see the other and the other’s understanding of God as somehow foreign and threatening. Both culture and faith prevent our inner child from growing up. Ironically, that’s a kind of infanticide. It’s a form of psychological murder that freezes us at immature stages of consciousness and so prevents us from developing along the lines celebrated in today’s feast of Epiphany.
Epiphany calls us to wake up – to grow up and to return home as the Magi did “by another way” that was not the way of ethnocentrism, wealth, power-over or cooperation with kings, priests and empire.
4 thoughts on “It’s Time for USians to Grow Up and Become Citizens of the World (Epiphany Sunday Homily)”
Hans Kung makes a distinction between “religious spirituality” and “religious institutionalization” in his Tracing The Path book. The former connects us with the numinous in the various ways religions do. The latter creates a bunch of little Herods, as Francis decries annually in his Christmas message to the Vatican bureaucracy.
Put simply: when religion becomes a business, it becomes business-driven, rather than spiritually-driven. Maslow’s Hierarchy again: in a battle between bread & butter and spiritual enlightenment, the former will generally win.
Waking up, then, means deconstructing the institutions of religion so that they can get back to their proper, and needed, roles of fostering a spiritual approach to life’s challenges. Without that, the end result of waking up will be one institution substituted for another institution.
Spiritual religious communities, yes. Religious institutions, no.
The key to keeping them apart is the development of religious service organizations, whose only function is to serve the spiritually-driven leadings of related spiritual communities. These organizations serve, but do not lead.
Thanks again for the wake up call. 🙂
Isn’t it interesting, Hank, that the pope publishes those Christmas messages, but they get so little play in the press — or even more importantly from the pulpit. No one takes seriously alternatives to bombing and mayhem. The distinctions you offer in your comment are so important. Young people get them. That’s why they’re leaving the institutional churches in droves.
“Both culture and faith prevent our inner child from growing up. Ironically, that’s a kind of infanticide. It’s a form of psychological murder that freezes us at immature stages of consciousness and so prevents us from developing….”
The whole intent of our non-spiritual culture – and unfortunately it’s mainstream religions – is to reduce it’s members to a docile conformist herd easily controlled by propaganda, baubles, diversions, backed up by threats of armed force and imprisonment where found necessary. The education we are offered is a joke compared to the wide-ranging, critical and creative affair needed to produce real wise and independent individuals. Instead we have people scared to think outside the boxes prepared to contain them.
Right on once again, Mike. I find it so sad that “education” has taken the turn towards careerism that has increasingly characterized it since the Reagan years. The most important courses I’ve taken (and taught) have challenged such focus on “jobs” which in any case has proven illusory.