Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
The Solemnity of the Epiphany: Homage
Herod was greatly troubled. Actually, that was an understatement. He was enraged. His paranoia was at record levels. And all of Jerusalem was greatly troubled along with him. The politicians there had good reason to be upset. This same Herod had killed three of his sons who he thought were trying to usurp his throne. He also killed his brother-in-law and sent his wife and another son into exile. He would do everything to protect his position.
What got him so upset? Foreigners from the East came to see him to ask him where the newborn king of the Jews could be found. What? He thought he had gotten rid of all competition. Was there some truth that there was another king out there somewhere? The magi said that they had seen his star rising. That was a sure sign that a great person had been born. But where was he? Herod’s own religious counselors told him about the prophecy of Micah, that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem. Was all this some sort of religious babel, or was there something to it? The magi told Herod that they were looking for the newborn king to do him homage. Homage. That really must have gotten Herod infuriated. They didn’t come to Jerusalem to do Herod homage. This baby king was going to be trouble.
We know the rest of the story, how Herod told the magi to get back to him when they found this king. When they didn’t return, he had all the male babies two and younger in the area of Bethlehem killed. We call them the Holy Innocents. We also know that just before this horrendous event, Joseph received a message in a dream to flee with Mary and the baby. He brought them to Egypt. After Herod died, a few years later, Joseph received yet another dream telling him to return his family to Nazareth.
But back to the magi. They did find the infant and they did give him homage. They recognized the superior power of this child. Later on in the feudal system, all would be required to do homage to their liege lords. Lesser nobility would recognize their dependence on and responsibility to those who were greater than them. The magi knew that the child was greater than them. They had followed his star. The heavens were pointing to the child. He wasn’t their king because others would proclaim him to be some sort of political king. He was someone the heavens had sent. So they gave him homage.
And so we give homage to the King of Kings, our Lord. We recognize that he is infinitely greater than any president or prime minister or any other ruler. We recognize that He is our Lord, the one who governs our lives.
We hold our hands together in prayer, placing our hands in his and surrendering to him. We pay Him homage. The gesture of prayer with our hands together or our fingers interlocked is a gesture of homage. When we pray using this gesture we are saying, “I belong to God.”
We pay homage to the Lord in more than our gesture of prayer, though. We pay homage to him in the events of our lives, be they significant events or the routine daily events. Recently, I asked one of our families what their plans were in view of a job opportunity that had opened up. Would they stay here or move. “We are not sure, yet” they said, “We are praying over it.” They are giving homage to the Lord, letting him direct their lives. We do this even in the minor events of our lives. We say grace before meals. Think about that. Why do we say grace before meals? We do this because we are giving the Lord homage, thanking him for the food we are receiving. Say a prayer in the morning entrusting your day to the Lord. Do homage to him and transform your day into a prayer to the King.
The magi were wise men. They realized that this child could draw them beyond the limits that the world imposes to that place where his life makes all life complete. That is why they did homage to him. That is why we do homage to the Lord. We do not have to be limited by the physical. We do not have to be condemned to empty lives. Jesus, the spiritual become physical, draws us, the physical, into union with the spiritual. Our lives have meaning and purpose and truth and beauty when they reflect His Life.
And so we do Him homage. We place our hands into His hands. We entrust our lives to Him. And we pray to Him to lead us to that place where our hearts long to go, to union with God.