Like a favorite photo collage flashing detailed images, Matthew’s Magi narrative conjures up familiar scenes – a baby’s birth, wise men, a star, a journey, a ruthless ruler, an uneasy confrontation, a pervasive world view, bad directions, and an unending quest until its purpose is fulfilled. The text’s two verses introduce all the characters and highlight the wise men’s query that has echoed down the years, striking a chord in the heart of each of us, as it moves us to ask, too, “Where Is He?”
Who were the Magi? These wise men, members of a wide-spread Wisdom movement, donned multiple hats – instructors, philosophers, priests. Also astrologers, they showed some appreciation for a newly emerging science, astronomy. As their world, in expectation, awaited the birth of the Messiah, King of the Jews, so did they; although, not even these wise and holy men knew precisely when or where it might occur. Without wi-fi, smart phones, satellite dishes, or digital global communication – these men relied on the stars. Like us, they also claimed a thoughtful faith. Viewing the brilliant Star of the East as a divine guide, and reasoning the sign to be worthy of their trust, they left their home, possibly in Persia (about 1,000 miles from their destination), and began the four-month trek to the distant land of Palestine, seeking to answer the questions: “Where is He?” “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?”
Unfortunately, their mental map did not coincide with the baby’s birthplace. Perhaps their Star (like our sometimes confusing GPS systems) did not communicate “recalculate” in time to re-direct them before their mistaken arrival in Jerusalem, not Bethlehem. Unexpectedly finding themselves in the wrong place, these intelligent foreigners were forced to admit their mistake and, with humility, ask for help in re-directing their course.
Today’s text ends with the wise men’s dilemma, a dilemma we know well: mistakes made, wrong place, disappointment, goals postponed, the need to ask for help. The Magi, having not yet found the Child whom they sought, continued their search – as we continue ours….
Tune in tomorrow for Episode Two (Matthew 2: 3-9).