On the glorious feast of the Epiphany the first scripture reading, from the prophet Isaiah, begins: “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you” and it concludes with the words: “the wealth of nations shall be brought to you. Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord” (Isa 60:1, 5-6).
We see in this passage a movement of wealth and gratitude from “the nations” coming toward Jerusalem. The Psalm takes up the same theme: “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you…” (Ps 72:11). They come from afar to share in what the Lord has given to Israel, his chosen people who were the instrument of salvation for the rest of the world. Before joining with Isaiah to proclaim the good news of the Gentiles’ salvation, the Psalmist announces just what it is that the Messiah of Israel will bring to his people…what is this great source of joy. We hear that he “He shall govern your people with justice and your afflicted ones with judgment. Justice shall flower in his days, and profound peace, till the moon be no more” (Ps 72:2, 7).
It is no wonder that the inhabitants of Jerusalem and many others centuries ago would find joy in these words, since justice and peace are among the most basic human desires. Any sensible person wishes for a society in which people are motivated by a zeal for justice and not merely by a fear of the law, and for peace and safety for all citizens. Such a desire is especially urgent now since here at home and abroad we have seen division and anger in recent years that make everyone long for a time when all people can get along with mutual respect and a willingness to help each other in times of need. Our times remind me of the wisdom Pope Paul VI famously taught in his Message for the World Day of Peace on New Year’s Day 1972: “If you want peace, work for justice” (cf. Isa 32:17).
A hint of why we should pursue justice and live at peace with all is given in today’s reading from the Letter to the Ephesians. There we see that all people—even those with whom we have great differences—are children of God and members of the Body of Christ: The mystery was made known to me by revelation. It was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel (Eph 3:3, 5-6).
Having been reminded that all who believe in Christ are one and benefit from the gift of salvation first extolled by Isaiah and received by Israel, we can take inspiration from the Magi whom we encounter in the Gospel. They were among “the nations” bringing their gratitude and their wealth—in the symbolic form of gold, frankincense, and myrrh—to Jerusalem in order to honor the Christ child. Traditionally the Church has seen them as representatives of all the foreign nations who would one day find salvation in Christ.
This Epiphany, and in this new year, let us resolve to pray and work earnestly for peace and justice, that the mission to the Gentiles might be brought to its fullness, so that with the Psalmist we can truly proclaim “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.”
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.