Sybil 2007

Gospel text

Matthew 2: 1-12

1 After the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem of Judea at the time of King Herod, it happened that oriental astrologers appeared in Jerusalem. 2 "Where is the king of the newly born Jews?", they asked. "For we saw his star appear in the east, and so we came to bow down to him." 3 When he heard these words, King Herod was disturbed, as were all the citizens of Jerusalem. 4 After having gathered the high priests and the Bible scholars in the population, he began to inquire where the messiah was to be born. 5 They answered him, "In Bethlehem in Judea, for it is said in the book of the prophet:

6 And thou, Bethlehem, land of Judas,
you are by no means the most insignificant city that has given leaders of Judah,
because this leader will come from you
who will lead my people Israel."

7 Following these words, Herod secretly summoned the astrologers to tell him the exact date on which the star appeared, 8 and after sending them to Bethlehem, he said to them, "Go and inquire with accuracy on this child; and if you ever find him, come and tell me so that I too can bow down to him. 9 Following the king's words, they left. And now the star they saw in the east led them until they reached their destination, and then it stood above the place where the child was. 10 Having thus seen the star, they felt an overwhelmingly great joy. 11 After entering the house, they see the child with Mary, his mother. So they bowed down to him, kneeling, then after opening their boxes, they offered him gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 But following a warning during a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their country by another way.


The end of everything? Or a new beginning...

Gospel commentary - Homily

The multiple paths of life

Never Daniel1 could have imagined what awaited him. Things were going so well for him: owner of the landscaping company who had the contract for all the McDonald's on the island of Montreal, married and father of two beautiful children, life was marvelous and prosperous. Unfortunately, the couple separated. Daniel's life falls apart: alcohol, cocaine use who requires $500 per day, loss of employment, loss of housing. His parents, who pity him, finally kick him out of their home to force him to get his act together. Now on the street, he needs money for his drugs, and he agrees to run a small prostitution ring. But one day by going looking for one of the girls to take her to "work", he sees in the apartment his 5 year old child who will be left alone. It is the shock. The scene is intolerable to him. He wants to end his life and overdoses. But neither death nor the hospital is keeping him, and he is back on the street.

That's when he is told about a rehabilitation center. He will spend more than a year there, in a closed cure. He came out of it sober, with a tattoo on his arm of the "lion of Judah", the symbol associated with the victory of the risen Jesus in Revelation, with the idea of helping others. Then he meets Sylvie with whom he starts his life over. And one day he opened the basement of his house to turn it into a food bank and sometimes take people in. Then, the neighborhood church rents his basement where he can provide food for about sixty families. But when fall and cold weather arrived, Daniel and Sylvie decided that the basement must also be used as a shelter for people on the street. That's how they install a dozen mattresses every night. The clothes are recovered and washed daily, the basement is disinfected and cleaned, and there have been no cases of Covid-19 so far.

Why is Daniel doing all this? "I have Jesus tattooed on my arm," he says? But he refuses to talk about religion, and sees nothing religious in what he is doing. For him, it's just love in action, and it's beautiful to love.

How does this story relate to Matthew's account of the Magi? It is a similar story of an unusual journey to the one called: Messiah or "God saves". Let us recall the story. Magi, considered at the time wise men and learned astrologers, and popular in Arabia, see a new star appear. In ancient times, the appearance of a new star was linked to the birth of an important person. And since this star probably appeared in the constellation of Pisces in the zodiac, associated with the Hebrews, the Magi set out for Judea. It is here in his account that Matthew introduces a new event: the king of the Jews, Herod, and all Jerusalem learns the purpose of the magi's journey. Catastrophe! Herod would have a rival. The high priests and the scribes, specialists of the Bible, can tell him that the prophets announced that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. So Herod has a plan: to eliminate this rival. He knows the place, he needs to get an idea of the baby's age, which he gets from the magi who can tell him when the star linked to his birth appeared. All that remains for him to do is to find out the exact location, a task he entrusts to the magi. Thus, the magi can set out again, this time guided by the star, much as the Hebrews when they came out of Egypt were illuminated at night by a pillar of fire. The story ends with the magi entering the child's house and bowing as if before their king. But at this point in his account, Matthew wishes to add this passage from Isaiah 60 and Psalm 72, where kings of Arabia offer their precious gifts of gold for the reconstruction of the temple, as well as frankincense and myrrh for the altar offerings, as an expression of their gratitude to the God of Israel; of course, the new temple is now Jesus. As Matthew introduced the event of Herod's intervention into the story, he must add a detail to his conclusion: thanks to a warning in a dream, the Magi return to their country fleeing Herod, to avoid giving him the information he wants.

Of course, the story of the Magi is fictitious. But it is a great catechesis. I spoke of an unusual journey. Matthew, however, a Jewish evangelist, put in contrasts two paths: on the one hand, that of the pagan magi who have only the natural phenomena of life, the stars, dreams, etc., as a guide. and on the other hand, the religious Jews with their high priests and scribes who have the Bible to guide them. Which journey was the most fruitful? The first path led to the messiah, the second led to his elimination. One can find Matthew's judgment severe, and of course a little caricatural. But it is first of all a reflection of his community environment which, originally very Jewish, has seen a large number of people of pagan origin join it; moreover, Jewish Christians were rejected by their more orthodox brethren and excluded from synagogues: not very edifying testimony from very religious people.

For Matthew these unusual journeys are important, because for him nothing escapes God's plan. He would have seen the same thing in Daniel's journey. And if he had to rewrite today the story of the Magi, he could put in scene many castaways wounded by events of life that made them eliminate all the masks until they find in the depths of them, this flame, this star that made them take the path of love. For Daniel, it was the sight of the vulnerable child left to himself who turned everything upside down and set him on a new course: it was his star. No route is pre-established, no route is excluded from the discovery of love revealed in its fullness in Jesus. So let us never despair.


-André Gilbert, Gatineau, January 2021

1 For the full account of this true story, see Yves Boisvert, La Presse, December 29, 2020