Happy Feast of the Epiphany! Might one even wish you a Spiffany Epiphany!
This is one of my favorite paintings, and today is the feast of its depiction: the Epiphany, or Adoration of the Magi. This painting makes me smile every time I see it. I love the depiction of Our Lady because she is so very beautiful. But the Star of this Show is the Baby Jesus – and His Big Toe.
When I look at this image, it seems not like a painting to me, but like a .GIF. What do I mean by that? I can see the movement of Our Lord’s toe as He is wiggling it, and I can see the subtle smile come across Our Lady’s face as she looks down at the scene of the very serious and lofty king leaning in to kiss the tiny toe of the Creator of the Universe and King of Kings, and He is PLAYFULLY wiggling it and making cooing baby sounds as the Magi puckers up and leans in to “get that Toe!” as so many of us have done exactly with other babies.
We have discussed many times in this space the infinite HUGENESS of God, using galaxies and galactic clusters as metaphors for His infinite bigness and our infantesimal smallness. I am reminded of something Our Lord said to St. Catherine of Siena, to whom, let us not forget, He was MYSTICALLY ESPOUSED. Listen to His words to His beloved Catherine:
“Do you know, daughter, who you are, And who I AM? If you know these two things, you will be blessed. You are she who is not; whereas I AM HE WHO IS. Have this knowledge in you and the enemy will never deceive you….“
God Almighty can say to His beloved, “you are she who is not” because it is true relative to Him, and because ALL EXISTENCE, REALITY AND TRUTH is through Him, with Him and in Him.
And that brings us back to the Tiny Wiggling Toe. It is precisely through these infinite juxtapositions that we draw closer to God in our contemplation of Him. The selfsame God that created and sustains the galaxies, galactic clusters and the entire universe is also the cooing Baby wiggling His Big Toe at the Magi crawling on the ground to kiss It.
Without the Majesty of the Bigness, you can’t appreciate the Humility of the Smallness, and without the Condescension of the Smallness, you can’t appreciate the incomprehensible Love of the Bigness.
This is the same idea with the two species of Fear of the Lord – without the servile fear of the Lord as Our Judge, you can’t fully appreciate the filial fear that He established Himself with the words, “I no longer call you slaves, but friends….” The paradigm shifted with the Incarnation and proclamation of the Gospel from not sinning primarily for fear of punishment, to not sinning because He loves us so much that to disappoint or hurt Him in any way is (should be) revolting to us.
And likewise, without the filial fear of breaking Our Lord’s Heart, one can very easily cast aside the fact that He is, in fact, the Fearsome and Terrible Judge and He can be twisted by our minds into the horrific cartoon character “Jesus my Boyfriend”, or even worse, “Jesus my pet Golden Retriever”. People with no healthy servile fear of the Lord are called “cheap grace” Protestants, or just universal salvationists.
So what exactly is the Good News? Is it that God is NOT the Just and Terrible Judge of Mankind who will sort the sheep from the goats, and sift men like wheat from chaff, burning the chaff? No. The Good News, the GOSPEL is that the Just and Terrible Judge is also the Baby wiggling His Tiny Toe as the Three Kings crawl forth to kiss It. The Gospel is that the Just and Terrible Judge ALSO loves you infinitely, and is thus 100% on your side. Do you understand that? THE JUDGE IS ON YOUR SIDE TO AN EXTENT THAT YOU SIMPLY CANNOT COMPREHEND.
All you have to do is say “yes” to Him. All you have to do is say and believe, “Jesus, I know that You love me”, and then ACTUALLY ACT LIKE YOU BELIEVE IT. Keep His commandments. Don’t break His heart. Enter His One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Avail yourself of the Sacraments He established for YOU and YOUR SALVATION, most especially the Sacrament of Confession and the Sacrament of the Altar, which is His very Physical Substance.
Look at the Tiny Wiggling Toe. Then go look up at the stars and galaxies and galactic clusters that He made and sustains without effort. Put the two together and know that you are he who is not, and the Tiny Toe is HE WHO IS.
I hope this helps.