A reflection for the feast of the Epiphany

Father Paul Keller, C.M.F. reflects on the readings for January 3, 2021.
Catholic Voices

Readings (Year B)

Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalms 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13
Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6
Matthew 2:1-12

Reflection: Find another way

To whom do we give our allegiance? Who receives our homage? Before whom do we bend our knee?

The magi, wise and influential advisors in the Persian royal court, reading the signs in the stars, come to Bethlehem to find the newborn king of the Jews (Matt. 2:1-12). The king they will find is very different than the current king of the Jews.

King Herod is a tyrant. The historical record confirms that he was as cruel and violent as Scripture tells us he was. As is true of every cruel dictator (or schoolyard bully), his is a fragile ego. When he is in the midst of one of his fear-based tantrums there is no telling what kind of suffering he will inflict upon his people. When Herod is troubled, so is all Jerusalem. No one is safe from the violence that Herod might unleash when his power is threatened.


This small child who was born in a barn and spent his first night sleeping in a feeding trough represents a very different kind of king. In this child a radiant and glorious light will shine for all people (Isa. 60:1-6).  As the psalm for this day’s liturgy tells us, this king will “govern [the] people with justice” (Ps. 72:2). As a ruler, this king “rescues the poor when they cry out, the oppressed who have no one to help. He shows pity to the needy and the poor and saves the lives of the poor” (Ps. 72:12-13). This is the kind of ruler we should want. It is certainly the kind of ruler that we need.

Jesus—the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, and the Prince of Peace—is the only one worthy of our ultimate allegiance. The magi, these foreigners, may not have fully understood who or what they would encounter, but they did come to understand that it was before the infant Jesus that they should bend their knees; to him they should offer their gifts. To King Herod they turned their backs, disobeying him as “they departed for their country by another way” (Matt. 2:12). That is the way to deal with cruel and violent rulers and the cruelty and hatred within us; we must find another way.

In times that are plagued by political conflict and animosity, amidst the fear and confusion of a pandemic that has cost so many their lives and others their livelihoods, we may be tempted to bend our knees and give allegiance to someone or something other than God. We might be tempted to surrender our wills and offer our loyalty to someone who promises to protect us from an unknown and threatening future. We might want to embrace some political ideology in the hopes that it will cure every ill. That never has and never will turn out well.

Only God—the Father as we have come to know him in the Son through the power of the Holy Spirit—is worthy of our worship, our allegiance, our homage. There are no modern day political leaders worthy of our ultimate allegiance or unflinching loyalty. However, as people of faith we know that there are criteria that we should use to evaluate our (imperfect) leaders: Do they seek to give relief to the poor? Do they show compassion to the afflicted? Do they have pity on the suffering and the lowly? We must also evaluate our own lives in this regard. Who receives our homage? Before whom do we bend our knees?

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About the author

Father Paul Keller, C.M.F.

Father Paul Keller, C.M.F. is a Catholic priest and a Claretian Missionary. Father Paul Keller’s online column, Smells like sheep, focuses on the places where pastoral ministry, public policy, theology, and ethics converge. You can like him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @keller_cmf.

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