Sunday Scripture: Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord (Year C)


Welcome to this, the twenty-fourth of my reflections on the theology of the Sunday readings at Mass.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I sincerely hope that this reflection will inspire you. You might find that it answers a few questions you may have, but most of all I hope that it will show you how fantastic Sacred Scripture is and perhaps enable you to share some of my love and passion for the Bible as you begin to comprehend how layered and multi-faceted it is, and what a carefully considered part of the Mass the readings are.

If you want to know how these posts came about, please read my first post in this series here.

I would like to think this regular blog would be a great help to anyone who reads at Mass, to enable them to foster a deeper understanding of the message they are trying to impart to the congregation.

There are several different ways to read this post. I would suggest the first thing to do is to look at the relevant readings. You might then want to look at the specific commentary for a particular reading. I post the same summary of the featured Biblical books each week, but at the end, under the subheading this week, you will usually find some commentary specific to each week. At the end I post a passage which attempts to draw all the readings together and understand the message.

My reflections are not definitive, but based on my study and perhaps authenticated by careful reference to the Biblical Commentaries and books I list at the bottom each week.

This Sunday the theme for the readings might be summed up as:

The Manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel, Son of God and Saviour of the World.


  • First Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6.
  • Psalm 71:1-2,7-8,10-13; Response cf. v. 11.
  • Second Reading: Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6.
  • Gospel: Matthew 3:13-17.
First, a short preliminary survey of each of the books.

I will post the same, or similar prelims week on week, for each book as we encounter them, although I may add a little detail specific to each week's readings.


The Book of Isaiah as we know it today in the Bible is actually a collection of writings which represent a tradition that extended over a span of some three hundred years. The whole text can be sub-divided into three major parts: (i) Isaiah 1-39, for the most part, presenting the teaching of the prophet himself, who laboured in Jerusalem from 740 until sometime after 701 B.C.; (ii) Isaiah 40-55 (generally referred to as Deutero-Isaiah (second -Isaiah)), containing the oracles of another prophet in the tradition of Isaiah, who announced God's word to the exiles in Babylon sometime between 550 and 539 B.C.; and (iii) Isaiah 56-66, Trito-Isaiah (third Isaiah), reflecting the same tradition at a later stage in Jerusalem after the Exile but before the arrival of Ezra and Nehemiah, perhaps around 500 B.C.

Isaiah is often considered the greatest of the Old Testament prophets because of the sheer range and vision of his prophecy. As I wrote in my post on the Eucharist, words have great meaning and power for the Hebrews. Thus their names are more than mere labels; they tell the identity, the significance, the sign-value of the person who bears them (hence the significance of the divine name of God for example). The name Isaiah means "God is salvation" and what is most extraordinary perhaps about this book is that it contains prophecies of Jesus, so numerous, so beautiful and so much more famous than any other prophet, that it has been referred to as the "Gospel of Isaiah".

Isaiah has also been called "the Shakespeare of the prophets", for his poetic turn of phrase rivalled only by Job and Psalms for poetic grandeur. At least ten of Isaiah's passages have become unforgettable to all English-speaking peoples, immortalised in Handel's world famous oratorio, The Messiah: 11:1-5; 7:14; 40:9; 60:2-3; 9:2; 9:6; 35:6-6; 40:11; 53:3-6; 53:8.

This prophet and his followers lived long before Christ, yet the detailed prophecies of the life of Christ we find in Isaiah are far more numerous and far more specific than anything else in the Bible. At least seventeen of them were fulfilled in truly remarkable detail.

Take the time to look up the following seventeen passages. These are only part of the more than three hundred different prophecies in the Old Testament that are fulfilled by Christ. Even though the New Testament writers (especially Matthew) deliberately used the style and language of Old Testament prophecies to describe events in the life of Christ—as a modern preacher might use the King James English to describe current events—the statistical odds that one man could fulfil all of these prophecies so completely is not much better than the odds that a monkey could type out Isaiah by randomly throwing marbles at a computer keyboard. Compare:-

1). Isaiah 7:14 with Matthew 1:22-23;
2). Isaiah 9:1-2 with Matthew 4:12-16;
3). Isaiah 9:6 with Luke 2:11 (see also Ephesians 2:14-18);
4). Isaiah 11:1 with Luke 3:23, 32 and Acts 13:22-23;
5). Isaiah 11:2 with Luke 3:22;
6). Isaiah 28:16 with 1 Peter 2:4-6;
7). Isaiah 40:3-5 with Matthew 3:1-3;
8). Isaiah 42:1-4 with Matthew 12:15-21;
9). Isaiah 42:6 with Luke 2:29-32;
10). Isaiah 50:6 with Matthew 26:26, 30, 67;
11). Isaiah 52:14 with Philippians 2:7-11;
12). Isaiah 53:3 with Luke 23:18 and John 1:11; 7:5;
13). Isaiah 53:4 with romans 5:6, 8;
14). Isaiah 53:7 with Matthew 27:12-14, John 1:29 and 1 Peter 1:18-19;
15). Isaiah 53:9 with Matthew 27:57-60;
16). Isaiah 53:12 with Mark 15:28; and
17). Isaiah 61:1-2 with Luke 4:17-21.

This week: We hear a song from Trito-Isaiah about the glorious new Zion; a restoration of all Israel gathered from distant places and receiving the wealth of the world so that even foreign kings serve Zion. Israel in turn becomes a light to other nations, enjoys security from invasion by other nations. Trito-Isaiah's convictions are that God will break into history to create a radically new order that will replace an old one. There's no doubt that this contributed to the emergence of apocalyptic literature over the course of the following centuries.


Psalms is the Bible's manual of inspired song and prayer. The collection of 150 Psalms represents the culmination of a long tradition that extends across almost the full span of the history of ancient Israel, from the Exodus (c. 1280 B.C.) until the last centuries of the Old Testament era (c. 200 B.C.). In Hebrew the canon of the Bible is called the TNK or Tanakh, which consists of Torah (teaching), Nevi'im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (writings)—thus TaNaKh. Psalms makes up the first of the writings in the Hebrew text. One of the most powerful things we know about the Psalms is that this is how Jesus Himself prayed.

Ephesians was traditionally accepted to have been a letter written by St. Paul. He twice identifies himself thus (1:1 and 3:1). However it's authorship was first questioned by Erasmus of Rotterdam in the sixteenth century and since then there has been much dialogue regarding this matter. Today it is widely accepted that Ephesians was written in Paul's name by one of his disciples who wished to honour the apostle by developing his doctrine and applying it to new situations in the Church. Indeed Ephesians is the most doctrinal of all the Pauline corpus. The letter is dated either early 60's (if you believe Paul wrote it), or late 90's. It constitutes Paul's mystagogical catechesis for the newly baptised, its towering theme is the "mystery" of Jesus Christ once concealed but now revealed (1:9; 3:4; 9). The mystery is the divine plan of vocation and predestination, redemption, and the recapitulation of all things in Christ.

This week: Paul is a steward of divine mysteries (1 Cor 4:1) chosen to manage the household affairs of the Church (1 Tim 3:15). His insight into the mystery of Christ is that Gentiles are full participants in the Church. The author recalls the solid foundations of the Church and emphasises the role played by the Apostles and the Prophets. The reading finishes with three nouns compounded with the prefix syn meaning "together". This serves to depict the full and equal participation of Gentiles with Jews in the one Body.

The Gospel According to St. Matthew: I have previous dedicated a post to the Gospel of Matthew here. If you would like to understand a bit more about Matthew's audience, origins, characteristics and literary context, please go there.

There's a post on the historicity of all the Synoptic Gospels (i.e. Matthew, Mark, and Luke) here.

This week: The story of the Wise Men from the East (not we are not given a number, only that there were three gifts—vs 11) who are the first Gentiles to recognise the kingship of Jesus (CCC 528). They enter "into the house" (vs 11) which tells us that the event took place after Jesus' was in the manger (Lk 2:7) and the Shepherds visited Him (Lk 2:15-17). Can you see the connection with the first reading where Gentile nations bring gifts of gold and frankincense to the God of Israel (cf. Tob 13:11; and the Psalm as well). The gifts of the Magi allegorically signify the mystery of Christ incarnate. Gold is a symbol of kinship and royalty. Frankincense points to His divinity and priesthood as it is used in the worship of God. Myrrh is a burial ointment and thus signifies His humanity and His destiny: His Passion and death. Morally, they signify the gifts we present to Christ in our daily lives. Gold is Christ's wisdom, which shines in us, frankincense the prayer and adoration we give Him and myrrh represents our daily sacrifices.

Drawing them all together...
The word "Epiphany" comes from the Koine Greek: ἐπιφάνεια, epiphaneia, "manifestation", "striking appearance" or "Theophany" Ancient Greek (ἡ) Θεοφάνεια, Τheophaneia, meaning "vision of God". It is the day when we celebrate the revelation of God the Son as a human being in Jesus Christ.

Epiphany is one of those great feasts that has lots and lots of meaning packed into the narrative. There's a lovely way of looking at it taught by Blessed Pope John Paul II that emanates from the very mystery of human faith. If we consider faith in God in the light of the Epiphany, we can see that far from having its starting point in nothingness, in plain self-deception, in fallible opinions or in uncertainty, it is based on the Word of God who cannot deceive or be deceived. Our faith is unceasingly built on the immovable rock of this Word. It is the search of the Magi under the guidance of a star, the search of which Pascal, taking up a phrase of St. Augustine, wrote so profoundly: “You would not be searching for me, if you had not found me.”

In his homily of 6th January 2008, Pope Benedict XVI said: The arrival in Bethlehem of the Magi from the East to adore the newborn Messiah is a sign of the manifestation of the universal King to the peoples and to all who seek the truth. It is the beginning of a movement opposed to that of Babel: from confusion to comprehension, from dispersion to reconciliation. Thus, we discern a link between Epiphany and Pentecost: if the Nativity of Christ, who is the Head, is also the Nativity of the Church, his Body, we can see the Magi as the peoples who join the remnant of Israel, foretelling the great sign of the “polyglot Church” that the Holy Spirit carried out 50 days after Easter. The faithful and tenacious love of God which is never lacking in his covenant from generation to generation is the “mystery” of which St Paul speaks in his Letters and in the passage from the Letter to the Ephesians which has just been proclaimed: the Apostle says that this mystery “was made known to me by revelation” (Eph. 3:3).

There's a great synopsis of Christmas narrative information here as well.

Bibliography:

Baker, K., SJ, Inside the Bible, San Francisco: Ignatius, 1998.
Boadt, L., Reading the Old Testament, New York: Paulist Press, 1984.
Brown, R. E., An Introduction to the New Testament, New York, Doubleday, 1997.
Brown, R. et al (Ed) The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, (London: Chapman, 2000).
Catechism of the Catholic Church, New York: Doubleday, 1995.
Duggan, M., The Consuming Fire, San Francisco: Ignatius, 1991.
Fuller, R.C., Johnstone, L., Kearns, C., A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, London: Nelson, 1969.
Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament, Second Edition RSV, San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2001.
Kreeft, P., You Can Understand The Bible, San Francisco, Ignatius, 2005.
Letellier, R., Sunday & Feastday Sermons Cycles A, B, and C, New York: St. Pauls, 2011.
Magnificat Monthly Vol. 3, No. 2/ December 2012.
McKenzie, J.L., Dictionary of the Bible, New York, Touchstone, 1995.


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