Wise Men

Matthew 2:1-8 recounts the coming of the magi to Jerusalem and their interview with Herod the great.  There are three parties in the story: the magi, Herod, and the chief priests and scribes.  Quite the gathering!  But it is a question worth pondering: which of the three parties was the wisest?


Adoration of the Magi, Exeter Cathedral

Adoration of the Magi, Exeter Cathedral

The magi are the obvious choice, after all they are often called the “Wise Men”.  They have come “from the east” – – many scholars think from modern Iran – -because they had seen some sort of an astrological sign.  They may have been Zoroastrian priests for Herodotus describes magi a special priests who held the “sacred words” and so had to be at the sacrifices.  Their “wisdom” is pagan insider knowledge and the fact God draws them to honour Jesus more shows that “every knee shall bow” than that the magi really understood anything.

What happens when they finally meet Jesus?  They present him some gifts, they “worship” him, and then they just pack up and leave!  Nor are we ever told that they came back later: they were not at the cross nor part of the church as far as we know.  They remind me a bit of the seed that fell on the rocky ground in Jesus’ parable – -they have one brief flourish than are seen no more.  Is this wisdom?  To meet God-made-an and walk away?


So what about the chief priests and scribes?  These are the men who knew all the promises and prophecies. They are the self proclaimed keepers of the hope, watchers for the Messiah.  They have the knowledge, they know that the Messiah should be born in Bethlehem, yet, when they get word he may have come, what do they do?  Nothing!  They dole out their knowledge and go back to business as usual.  Not a one of them went with the magi.  Even if they doubted these outsiders, surely at least one should have gone with them just in case.  No, there is no wisdom here at all.  If they really were looking for the pearl of the kingdom, you cannot tell from the failures here.


That leaves Herod.  Ruthless, hated Herod.  Could he deserve the title of wisest?  I think so.  Oh, I don’t mean that he wasn’t a wicked, lost man, for he obviously was.  But he was also the only one there who understood.  He didn’t brush off the possibility like the scribes, nor did he treat it as a three day wonder like the magi.  Herod knew quite clearly that there were only two possibilities if the magi were right: to yield the crown, and himself, to this new King, or to kill him.

We know what choice he made, and we abhor him him for it.  But basically he was right.  Those priests who walked away having done nothing would discover the same truth some thirty years later, but where Herod failed they would succeed.  Or seem to.


And what of us?  Faced with the possibility that Jesus actually is God, do we dismiss it and wait for God to do something more to our liking, like the scribes; enjoy the child but ignore the man, like the magi; or do we recognise that he calls us to make a radical decision, like Herod?  And if we do see things the way Herod did, will we also do as he did or will we take the fourth option, the option no-one at that meeting took?  Will we find true wisdom?


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One Response to “Wise Men”

  1. Jesus Christ Says:

    […] Wise Men(thoughtfulspirituality.wordpress.com) […]

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