To­day’s gold, in­cense and myrrh

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - THE FACT -

The Gospel of Matthew tells the story of Three Kings who trav­elled from the east to visit Baby Je­sus as he lay in a manger in Beth­le­hem, a feast that is marked to­day by the Catholic Church and brings to an end cel­e­bra­tions as­so­ci­ated with Christ’s birth.

There is no con­fir­ma­tion that the Wise Men were real rulers, although Balthasar is of­ten rep­re­sented as a king of Ara­bia, Mel­chior as a king of Per­sia, and Gas­par as a king of In­dia. But the Bi­ble speaks of gifts that they brought to Baby Je­sus – gold, in­cense and myrrh.

Var­i­ous in­ter­pre­ta­tions have been given on the sym­bol­ism be­hind these three gifts, but they are largely ac­cepted as be­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tive of king­ship on earth (gold), de­ity (in­cense) and death (myrrh).

More than 2,000 years have passed since that day and the world has changed so much. But we take the op­por­tu­nity of to­day’s feast of the Epiphany to give a more modern mean­ing to the three “gifts”, not nec­es­sar­ily af­ford­ing them the same read­ing as that in­tended in the Bi­ble.

Gold, for ex­am­ple, is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the ma­te­ri­al­is­tic life many of us lead, where money, power and pos­ses­sions are put high on the list of our pri­or­i­ties. The more we have, the more we would like to have, and some­times this comes at the ex­pense of our per­sonal re­la­tion­ships, with both fam­ily and friends.

We tend to think that hav­ing a big car, a lux­u­ri­ous apart­ment and the money to go on hol­i­day fre­quently, near or far, will fill our hearts. We then try to si­lence our

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con­science by giv­ing some­thing from the ex­cess we have to char­ity, be it for l-Ist­rina or any other fund-rais­ing event.

It would be per­haps more benev­o­lent, and cer­tainly more ful­fill­ing, to spend an hour or two with our el­derly par­ents or do­ing some vol­un­tary work with some­one in need. But we think that just by giv­ing €50, €20 or €10 once or twice a year we are car­ry­ing out our moral du­ties to pro­vide for the needy. No, it’s not enough.

Then there’s in­cense, which to­day can be un­der­stood as rep­re­sent­ing the way we idolise other peo­ple for the wrong rea­sons. This, of course, in­cludes politi­cians, who are seen by many as ex­am­ples one should fol­low and who can do no wrong when, ev­ery­one should know, they should be way down the list of per­son­al­i­ties we ad­mire. This is be­cause many of them use pol­i­tics not to serve oth­ers, as they por­tray them­selves as do­ing, but to serve them­selves and their am­bi­tions. There are cor­rupt peo­ple in all pro­fes­sions and ca­reers, but politi­cians are a notch above the rest in this re­spect.

Politi­cians are not the only peo­ple who are idolised. There are foot­ballers, ac­tors, singers, blog­gers and oth­ers who we think lead an ex­em­plary life sim­ply be­cause they score a goal or write a good song. They are the he­roes of many and, un­for­tu­nately, the level of ad­mi­ra­tion is in­creas­ing among the younger gen­er­a­tions who live for and by the so­cial me­dia where it is so easy to be de­ceived.

It would be prob­a­bly bet­ter to think of to­day’s he­roes as­de­pen­ be­ing those peo­ple who, silently and with­out telling any­one, of­fer a help­ing hand to oth­ers who need. It is easy to think of some­one like Mother Teresa when one speaks of vol­un­tary work, but there are many oth­ers who, with­out pub­lic­ity and with­out up­load­ing pho­tos on Face­book, spend most of their free time giv­ing as­sis­tance to peo­ple – be it in hospi­tals, in el­derly peo­ple’s homes, among the poor or even with mem­bers of their own fam­ily or friends. Some­times a kind word of en­cour­age­ment works won­ders.

Myrrh, or em­balm­ing oil, is in­ter­preted as be­ing the sym­bol of death and, trans­posed into modern times, it rep­re­sents the bad side of hu­man na­ture, the ha­tred we show to the next per­son, the in­abil­ity to un­der­stand one an­other, the in­sen­si­tiv­ity we show to­wards peo­ple in dif­fi­culty, that hurt­ful com­ment on the so­cial me­dia and the self­ish­ness in think­ing that we de­serve more than oth­ers.

But it could also be taken as rep­re­sen­ta­tive of our own mor­tal­ity – if there is any jus­tice in this world it is that we will all, one day, end up in a cof­fin six feet un­der. The thought of this should make us kin­der to other an­other and stop wor­ry­ing about the triv­i­al­i­ties of life. We should not wait un­til we know the end is near – if we are given the chance to know that – to re­alise what makes the world re­ally tick. Most of the griev­ances we ex­pe­ri­ence are not worth the en­ergy we put in them.

The story of the Three Kings took place more than 2,000 years ago. But it still has a kind of rel­e­vance to­day.

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