Sunday January 3, 2016
A Reflection on Matthew 2:1-12, N.A.B.
By: Larry T
Who were the “magi”? Were they wise men, kings, or astrologers? In this Sunday’s Gospel reading the magi are astrologers/astronomers who looked to the movement of stars and planets as signals of major events. Since they do not know where the Christ is to be born, they are presumed to be Gentiles. Where in the east they came from isn’t clear, but magi suggests Persia, and their practice of astrology points to Babylon.
1 When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem,
2 saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”
3 When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
4 Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet:
6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance.
8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.”
9 After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.
10 They were overjoyed at seeing the star,
11 and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.
How did we get to know the magi as kings? The tradition of their kingship rose from the Church’s reading of Psalm 72:8-10 as part of the Christmas story:
8 May he rule from sea to sea,
from the river to the ends of the earth.
9 May his foes kneel before him,
his enemies lick the dust.
10 May the kings of Tarshish and the islands bring tribute,
the kings of Arabia and Seba offer gifts.
11 May all kings bow before him,
all nations serve him.
The only known continents of the time were Africa, Asia, and Europe. At some point the idea that one king came from each continent became popular; in this light they were seen as being universal representatives of mankind. Furthermore, the existence of the black king promoted the belief that in Jesus’ kingdom there are no distinctions of race and origin. In Him and through Him, all humanity is united.
In time the three kings even came to be associated with the three phases of human life: youth, maturity, and old age. For Christians there is wisdom in this because in each of the stages of human life Jesus is the sole gateway to true meaning and inner harmony.
Still yet, Bethlehem is nearly 500 miles from Babylon. Why would these three Gentile astrologers set off on such a perilous journey in search of the newborn “king of the Jews”? In one sense they are successors of Abraham, who set off on a journey in response to God’s call; like Abraham they represent a new beginning for humanity. In another sense they represent humanity subjected to the gravitational pull of Jesus. Moreover, the very first step of their journey initiated a procession toward the Lord that will continue to the end of time.