Today’s readings: Isaiah 60, 1-6; Ephesians 3, 2-3.5-6; Matthew 2, 1-12.

Authentic exploration of God often happens independently of institutionalised religion. It happens mainly in the wandering heart where many stories remain untold. It is there that God’s epiphany is at its best. Matthew’s gospel opens with the story of strangers, coming to Jerusalem from the East, not rooted in any way in the Jewish religion and yet with an intuition about something that had escaped the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

The identity of these travellers is not revealed because they represent myriads of people across all borders who never explicitly shared the story of Jesus Christ but who in their own way are searching for God. Back in the 20th century, theologian Karl Rahner wrote amply about such seekers whom he considered “anonymous Christians”.

Today’s Scripture readings from Isaiah, St Paul and St Matthew all put the stranger, the outsider, in focus, as the main addressee of the good tidings of God. This is the vision that puts the Church in mission on the right track even in our times. It is imperative for the Church nowadays to listen to those who position themselves outside mainstream religious practice. There are stories out there that need to be listened to and in which we can discern the impulses of the Spirit of God.

This wise men came from outside Jeru­salem, “falling to their knees” in front of the child Jesus, while the religious functionaries remained untouched. The outsider’s standpoint, unsettling and disturbing as it can be for the institution, can also bring fresh air in our communities which otherwise would end up simply listening to their own voices.

Today the Church’s commitment is to recover more common ground with other religions, peoples, cultures and races which to date were considered alien to the Gospel. In Christ it is not a ‘Christian’ God who became incarnate, but the one God creator of all and who on all impinged His own image and likeness. That translates the Church’s mission primarily towards enhancing universal fraternity and the survival of humanity at large.

In Christ, God embraced humanity to be no longer the God of the chosen few, but of all who seek His glory and world peace. This big truth should put us on guard from reacting as Jerusalem and Herod did on hearing of the wise men. Jesus always threatens our worldly and churchly securities and he always challenges our religious truths. This does not happen whenever we end up owning Christ rather than being owned by him.

This is the Church’s pastoral conversion, a transformation from what used to be a closed network of relationships and knowledge to an open one shaped mainly by many untold stories where God continues to manifest Himself. The Church has constantly gone through such transformations in its history, with Pope Francis now considering it primarily as a field hospital and understanding its mission as mainly to tend to the wounded.

The Church is reinventing itself by returning to the centre where it belongs. The walls that guaranteed its institutional security are now razed to the ground, making it transparent and vulnerable, no longer self-referential but pointing to the Lord who is its foundation rather than just its founder.

Today the Church is committed not just to celebrate liturgically the Epiphany of the Lord, but to create the space where the Lord can manifest His presence.

God’s promise is wide-ranging and all-embracing. His love for humanity cannot be simply channelled through the structures of religion. We cannot let our religious past obstruct His Spirit that blows wherever it wills. His ‘epiphany’ in time and space continues, thanks to us or in spite of us ‘believers’.

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