Epiphany Of The Lord
God reveals himself to believers and non-believers alike. He calls us to be true believers, to know Jesus personally.
What is my attitude towards non-believers? As a believer, do I assume a superior complex toward non-believers and adopt a holier-than-thou attitude towards them? Do I look down on others who do not know God, or worse, assume that they will be damned?
This week, we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord, which marks the revelation of our Lord to the gentiles. The term “gentile” literally refers to someone who is not of the Jewish race. The Jews believe that only those who were members of the Jewish religion may be saved. Gentiles therefore cannot be saved. This is a misunderstanding that persisted through generations. As St Paul said in this week’s Second Reading, “In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (verse 5-6) Since most of us are not of Jewish decent, we are in fact gentiles. Hence the revelation from St Paul should be of great comfort to us – we gentiles are in fact “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus”.
But what about the non-believers among us? Can they be saved? To answer this question, we need to interpret this week’s Scripture from a modern-day context. From a modern-day context, “gentile” takes on a wider definition – it does not refer to just a non-Jewish person but also any person who does not (yet) know God. In other words, a gentile refers to any non-believer. Like the Jews of Biblical time, many believers today believe that only members of their respective religion may be saved. St Paul’s teaching in the Second Reading refutes that belief. Not only that, through this week’s Solenmity of the Epiphany, God is calling all non-believers to Him as all are “fellow heirs … in the promise in Christ Jesus”.
Who are the non-believers? As Christians, many of us would regard anyone who does not believe in God or has not been baptised a non-believer. In doing so, we are equating “believing in God” to “knowing about God”. The truth is, having knowledge of God does not equate to believing in God. In fact, even for a person who possesses in-depth theological understanding of God, the best that can be said is that the person knows a lot about God. For what is theology? “Theo” means God while “-logy” means the study of, in other words, the study of God. God said in the Old Testament, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa 55:9). Human understanding of God, no matter how profound, can only scratch the surface of who God really is. As mere humans, we can never know everything about God. And thankfully, we need not know everything about God in order to believe in Him, to personally know Him. Allow me to use an example to illustrate. For those of us who are interested in finding out, we can find out a lot about a certain celebrity – a sports personality, movie star or politician. But does that mean we know that celebrity person personally? Of course not. And just like knowing a celebrity, the fact that I have an in-depth knowledge about God does not mean I have a personal relationship with Him.
Hence, the definition of a non-believer is not confined to those who are yet to be baptised. A non-believer is also someone who is baptised into the faith and yet do not know Jesus personally. What about me? Do I know Jesus personally? Or do I just know about Him? Truth is, many of us do not know Jesus personally. While I may attend church regularly, know all the prayers and liturgies or perhaps even serve in church ministries; but who is Jesus to me really?
For many of us, our life is a dichotomy. Our life in church and outside the church are very distinct and different. In church, I am pious and holy. Outside the church, in my business and social life, I am unscrupulous, self-serving and vengeful. St John said, “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true” (1 Jn 1:5-6) In other words, to be a believer is to know Jesus personally; to know Jesus personally is to live and love like Him. In fact, as St John said, if I said I am a believer but yet live my life in darkness, I am in fact living a lie. This week, Jesus is calling us to be true disciples, to let His light shine on all parts of our life. As St John wrote, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (Jn 1:5)
The historical background of the First Reading is the period when the Jews had just returned from their exile to Babylon. The sight that confronted them upon their return must have been rather disheartening – their city ruined and the temple destroyed. This passage offers the people a word of encouragement – that the Lord will once again lead them to greatness. If I am living a double life, am I in fact also living in exile like the Jews? Do not be disheartened, as the prophet Isaiah encourages us, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (verse 1). In the passage, as the Jews renewed their relationship with God in verse 6, they are joined by non-believers coming from Midian, Ephah and Sheba, coming with gifts to pay homage to the Lord. What a beautiful sight it is – believers and non-believers coming to God together! Such is God’s great mercy. It does not matter whether we are non-believers or believers who has yet to develop an intimate relationship with Jesus. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28) Regardless of the state of our faith life, we are all sons and daughters of God. Such is a beauty of universal salvation. Like the wise men in the Gospel, let us seek out Jesus, presenting Him our gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. In presenting Jesus with our gold, we present to Him our victories and accomplishments in thanksgiving. In presenting Jesus with our frankincense, we present to Him our worship and praise him in adoration. Most importantly, we present to Him our myrrh. Myrrh are spices used in preparing the body for burial. As we come to Jesus, let us die to our old unscrupulous, self-serving and vengeful self, as we present to Him our failures, our sins, our insecurity, our hurt and our pains – in repentance.
The Solenmity of Epiphany calls us to be like the two disciples of John the Baptist. They know about Jesus, but they wanted more, they wanted to know Him personally. So, one day, as Jesus walked by, the two disciples followed Jesus (Jn 1:36-37). “They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day” (Jn 1:39). As the two disciples showed us, knowing Jesus personally does not require a theological degree. They just spent time with Jesus. They saw where He lived, learned how He interacted with people, how He conducted Himself, and how He love. The Solenmity of Epiphany inspires us to do the same. In fact, Andrew, one of the two disciples who followed Jesus that day was so inspired that he decided to call his brother to join him in following Jesus. That brother is none other than Simon Peter, who would become the leader of the 12 Apostles. My dear brothers and sisters, we cannot earn salvation through our racial, cultural or even religious heritage; neither can we earn salvation through in-depth theological study. Rather we are saved by what we believe and how we live out those beliefs. At Epiphany, let us walk closer to Jesus and help others develop a closer relationship with Him. Amen.