Epiphany Announced the Battle of Church and State: Pilate, King Herod, and the Slaughter of Faith
It is unfair that the US Bishops translated the feast of the Epiphany to Sunday instead of leaving it on January 6th (where it belongs). Ever since 1991, the USCCB turned the epiphany into a movable feast and years like this year mean that you have less time to consider just everything that happened with the first coming of Christ. One meaning of the Epiphany is the announcement of the Second Coming to the powers of the world. At the beginning of His life, Our Lord could not yet tell us, but we can determine this moment at Epiphany from Our Lord’s words to Pilate at the end of His life.
Pilate therefore went into the hall again, and called Jesus, and said to him: Art thou the king of the Jews? Jesus answered: Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or have others told it thee of me?
Jesus answered: My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would certainly strive that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now my kingdom is not from hence. Pilate therefore said to him: Art thou a king then? Jesus answered: Thou sayest that I am a king. For this was I born, and for this came I into the world; that I should give testimony to the truth.John xviii et seq.
What was told to Pilate had actually been revealed at the Epiphany. Also, as Fr. Hardon was apt to describe: the Epiphany marked the beginning of the war between the power of the world (the State) and God. We’ll explore this more below, but we must consider this last exchange between Pilate and Our Lord. If this were Hollywood, this statement of Our Lord would be a climactic clash. Jesus is announcing to Pilate that his power is temporary. Pilate understood the power Our Lord announced as he wanted to drop the whole thing immediately:
Pilate therefore saith to him: Speakest thou not to me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and I have power to release thee?
Jesus answered: Thou shouldst not have any power against me, unless it were given thee from above. Therefore, he that hath delivered me to thee, hath the greater sin. And from henceforth Pilate sought to release himJohn xix
Pilate had to realize that this was the child rumored to have been born King. The same child that Herod sought to kill. Pilate was aware. And now, in his hands was this man. How had he survived the onslaught of Herod to kill him? Kings from the east had come to Jerusalem claiming that a star marked his arrival! Who is this man that nature itself announced? Romans thought such things only happened for their emperors. And what about these reports that he raised men from the dead?
The Nativity was for regular people — the angels announced to the lowly shepherds that the Savior was born. The shepherds were no one of power, just regular folks. They were also jews, so it is fitting that they were first as it was to them that the Savior was promised. The STAR appeared and they saw it. And angels no less told them to come to the stable. We see the entire kingdom of God involved here — even creation itself — is announcing the birth of Her Lord. Jesus had bigger plans, though… He didn’t come just for them, He came for all of us, gentiles (even Greeks).
First Meaning: Epiphany is the Gentile “Christmas” – Gentiles bow down to honor Him
When we talk about the Magi arriving to pay homage to the newborn king, not only was this a fulfillment of prophecy in the Old Testament, but we see again that the entire kingdom of God is involved: creation lends to the announcement, for the star appeared to the magi and they followed it. It was the same star the shepherds saw, right? But what about the angels? Not until after they visited Our Lord and paid Him homage. It’s strange to think of this way, but the Magi were rulers of the gentiles, the profane peoples, right? They had to work on “faith”. Faith to come see this king that creation announced to them. (surely they sounded a bit crazy to people — “we’re following a star” across all these lands to come to this little town).
These magi did the crazy, though, and came to meet this new king. The gifts they gave reveal that they knew His kingdom was not of this world. St. Iraneus tells us, “they offered to Him who is to die, gold to Him whose kingdom will never end, incense to the God of the Jews who is now manifesting Himself to the Gentiles.”
I don’t pretend to understand how the Magi understood this! But they did. And we can see in this part of Epiphany that the world, even in the gentiles, understood that God became man. A great king whose kingdom is not of this world.
Only after they subjected themselves to Our Lord does an angel come to them. The gentiles are now part of this heavenly mix. The angel tells them that Herod intends to kill this kid, go home another way. But there is more to the drama. The angel is now looking out for the Magi as well. Again, if this was Hollywood, we’d know Herod would have likely killed the Magi, or imprisoned them and tortured them to give up the child’s location, right? If Herod is going to slaughter all the first born, what problem is some foreign kings? The angel was looking out for these new subjects of Our Lord. We see then, that Epiphany reveals that the kingdom of Heaven is active for gentiles as well!
Second Meaning of Epiphany: Herod is the State, and is going to Kill the Church
Herod is a mess of a character. He is the King of the Jews, but knows nothing about the redeemer. When the magi come to him, he has no idea what they are talking about and has to ask the scribes for some help. Now, if he is the king of the Jews, he should be a little more aware of the promised redeemer, right? Herod is also the local king, but doesn’t even want to go with the magi! Contrast the magi and Herod for a moment:
- The magi travel across the world to find this child; Herod lives there and can’t even travel in his own kingdom;
- The magi wish to go to the child and pay homage; Herod wants the child to be brought to him;
- The magi understand the birth of God as everlasting king; Herod has to ask what this is all about;
- The magi are truthful in their intentions and whereabouts; Herod attempts to deceive the magi;
- The magi respond to the announcement with faith and humility; Herod responds with deceit and treachery; and,
- The magi bring gifts that reveal they honor this king; Herod eventually orders all children slaughtered.
Fr. Hardon tells us that Herod is the State. Like Pilate being a constant reminder in every recitation of the Nicene and Apostles creed that apostates will use the state power to kill believers, Herod demonstrates this first. Herod is clearly an apostate jew. While he consults the scribes, it is obvious that he has no inclination to faith. He doesn’t even have the desire to look for himself!
The Irony of Translating the Feast of Epiphany to Sunday — Church yielding to State, just like the Priests and Scribes in Herod’s court
Notice something terrible in the recitation of the events of Epiphany in the Gospel: In Herod’s court, the priests and scribes of the Jews listened to the evidence of the Magi. Did they go to Bethlehem? Noooo!!!! Fr. Hardon points this out:
Little did they know what fear they inspired in Herod’s heart when he heard that a new king of the Jews had come into the world. They were told to go to Bethlehem. But remember, Herod himself had to ask the Jewish leaders where the Messiah was to be born. He did not know. In fact, he did not want to know. When the priests and scribes told him that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, you would expect them to be the first ones to go to Bethlehem and discover this infant whom the prophets had foretold.Fr. John A. Hardon SJ Homily, The visitation of the Magi (1996).
Boom. Epiphany cements what will happen on Good Friday: Apostates and the powers that be in religion will cozy up to the state and ignore God. Worse, the state will attempt to destroy the Church (Jesus is the Church).
Fr. Hardon continues:
Herod’s reaction to the information he received about the place where the Messiah was to be born is nothing less than a profound mystery. From Herod on until Good Friday, the story of Jesus Christ was the same. The political powers in what we have come to call the Holy Land were in open opposition to the Savior of the world.
No sooner did Christ come into the world than He had to be taken out of Palestine, in the dead of night, to escape the murderous envy of the tyrant Herod.id.
I would add that the priests and scribes were of no help, were they? Jesus hit the ground in action — starting at Epiphany. From the moment He was announced to the world, He was marked for death. Father continues:
When Herod died, Jesus returned to where He had been conceived at Nazareth. We commonly speak of His thirty years of hidden life at Nazareth. Not so. It was not a hidden life but a life in hiding. Christ had to remain in secret seclusion for three decades in order to avoid the envious hatred from a hostile political power.
No sooner did Jesus begin His public ministry than He aroused the hostility of the leaders of the Chosen People. They allowed Him less than three years to proclaim His message of salvation during what we call His public ministry. The very miracles that He performed were the last straw. No sooner did He raise the dead Lazarus from the grave than the Scribes and Pharisees decided on appealing to the State to have the Author of life crucified.id.
Let me ask you, dear reader: do you think it is any different today? Are there elements of the powers that be in the Church that subordinate to the State? Is the State friendly to Our Lord and His Kingdom?
So the litany of subordination of Church to State goes on. It all began with the visit of the Magi to the Christ child in Bethlehem. It reached its climax during Christ’s visible stay on earth when Pilate condemned the Savior to a merciless death on Calvary. It is going on in one nation after another, including our own beloved United States.
Nothing ever happened in the life of Christ during His visible stay on earth that was not meant for all times. Epiphany means “manifestation.” The first Epiphany was the manifestation of how Jesus Christ had to escape to Egypt to keep from being murdered by Herod. To this day, the Epiphany manifests how the followers of Christ are treated by those who wield political power in opposition to the teachings of Christ.Id.
I hate to point out that, as I started the article above, I mentioned that the feast was translated from January 6th to a Sunday. There was no good reason to do this, and it in fact compresses the time of Christmastide for many. Instead of having days to imitate Our Lady, “who pondered all these things in her heart”, they must instead have a compacted schedule that fights against discovery of these ideas.
I could point out the obvious as well: politics, politicians, and Holy Communion despite supporting abortion. Are these times much different than those priests and scribes in Herod’s court who didn’t even go look for the savior?
Yes, Epiphany says so much more than gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Bow down to your saviour and pay Him homage, and be prepared to follow Him – all of creation and His Kingdom will take note!
Be Like the Magi: Follow the Angels and Be safe
The angels protected the Magi from the deceptions of Herod and the lazy priests and scribes. Why? Because in faith, they subjected themselves to Jesus, proclaimed Him to be King by their gifts, and humbled themselves before the King of Kings. Let us do the same, and may we have the peace of knowing that, like the angels to the Magi, the angels will help us avoid the deceits of the State.
This article, Epiphany Announced the Battle of Church and State: Pilate, King Herod, and the Slaughter of Faith is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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