When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
in the days of King Herod,
behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.”
Homage is not exactly an everyday word. There seems to be no appropriate place for homage, and even less a willingness. All humans are equal in dignity; and as such, the idea of showing extreme honor, respect, or prestige seems out of place and out of mind. Even with the socially mild online Oxford dictionary definition of a “special honor or respect shown publicly,” we seem resistant. It’s not that we don’t honor others. It’s not that we don’t show respect, even publicly. We just never quite seem ready to say ‘I’m somehow lower in stature, status, or state than you.’ And I suppose among us human persons, there is more than a hint of truth in that. However, it once was, even if we didn’t truly honor or respect the other person, we could still somewhat/somehow respect the position of responsibility of another. No doubt, many such persons holding such positions of responsibility have held them poorly or worse; and so, positions, institutions, relationships of import also receive little or no homage.
Reading up on “homage”, the Britannica Encyclopedia made a distinction of ‘medieval homage and fealty’. Stating that such homage was a: “Solemn act of ritual by which a person became a vassal of a lord in feudal society. Homage was essentially the acknowledgment of the bond of tenure that existed between the two. It consisted of the vassal surrendering himself to the lord, symbolized by his kneeling and giving his joined hands to the lord, who clasped them in his own, thus accepting the surrender… The lord then performed a symbolic investiture of the new vassal, handing over to him some object representing his fief. The whole procedure was a recognition of both the assistance owed by the tenant to his lord and the protection owed by the lord to the tenant” (britannica.com/topic/homage).
We in our age are a long, long, long way from a feudal way of living, and of this kind of homage giving. Yet, in fact, this medieval homage is much closer to the homage made and intended by the magi in the Gospel, than the simple respect & honor, public or otherwise made (or not made) in our own day. Note, how often the magi are depicted with bended knee before the Christ child. Matthew 2:11 states that the magi ‘prostrated themselves’. Literally, they made themselves as low and lowly as possible before Jesus Christ and Mother Mary, by lying flat. Was this a ‘solemn ritual’? That is not stated, but they certainly understood their visit as one to a king to whom a deep relationship was due – that of a vassal and lord – tenant to master. There is an acknowledgment of a bond existing between the two. There are tokens exchanged – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. In essence, there is tribute and spoils given by those who surrender to the One to whom they surrendered, Jesus the Newborn King of the Jews. And as Britannica states, there was a mutual relationship between the tenant to the Lord (obedience) while experiencing the protection of the Lord over the tenant (God’s Grace, forgiveness, incorporation & eternal care).
You of course know where this is going? Are you willing to even contemplate this sort of homage of submission and obedience of will & intellect, words & deeds, life & death to Christ the King? What is being asked here is not grand, but hollow, gestures of prostrating one’s self before the Eucharist, but the humble & hard surrendering of one’s life to the Lord. So that His Mission may become your mission; His ministry, your ministry; His Truth, yours; His purpose, yours; His way, yours. Jesus is Lord & King. I guess that might be why Homage is not exactly an everyday word, let alone action. Honestly, He will accept nothing less than everything; yet, while He promises in return all you will ever need – His Grace, Forgiveness, Healing, Protection, Truth, & Love.
Come let us do Him homage!
Holy Family, who received the Homage of the Magi, Pray for us.
~ Fr Jeremy M. Gries