(Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12)
This may come as a surprise, but the role of the star leading the Magi to Jesus was a source of scandal for some early Christians. Was Matthew’s narrative favoring astrology? The Magi were a cast of wise men, variously associated with the interpretation of dreams, Zoroastrianism, astrology, and magic, and so there is a basis for concern. However, in this case, the star leads the Magi from the East (Persia, Syria, or Arabia) to Mary and the Child Jesus in Bethlehem. In this way, it breaks the power of astral determinism and the supposed power of astrology and instead serves God. The Magi are also a model for sound Mariology as worshipers of Christ in a Marian context. But beyond this, what is this story calling for us to do?
Like the Magi, we too are to seek the Lord and to search after the light of wisdom as is found in Jesus. There was a short story written by Henry van Dyke in 1895 titled, The Story of the Other Wise Man that beautifully illustrates this point. The story is an addition and expansion of the account of the Biblical Magi, recounted in the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. It tells about a “fourth” wise man (accepting the tradition that the Magi numbered three), a priest of the Magi named Artaban, one of the Medes from Persia. Like the other Magi, he sees signs in the heavens proclaiming that a King had been born among the Jews. Like them, he sets out to see the newborn ruler, carrying treasures to give as gifts to the child – a sapphire, a ruby, and a “pearl of great price.” However, he stops along the way to help a dying man, which makes him late to meet with the caravan of the other three wise men. Because he missed the caravan, and he can’t cross the desert with only a horse, he is forced to sell one of his treasures, the sapphire, in order to buy the camels and supplies necessary for the trip.
He then commences his journey but arrives in Bethlehem, too late to see the child, whose parents have fled to Egypt. While in Bethlehem, Herod’s soldiers arrive to slaughter the Holy Innocents. He saves the life of one of these children at the price of another of his treasures, the ruby. It is from this child’s mother that Artaban learns that the Holy Family had fled to Egypt.
He then travels to Egypt and to many other countries, searching for Jesus for many years and performing acts of charity along the way. After 33 years, Artaban is still a pilgrim and a seeker after light. Artaban arrives in Jerusalem just in time for the crucifixion of Jesus. He spends his last treasure, the pearl, to ransom a young woman from being sold into slavery. He is then struck in the head by a falling roof tile and is about to die, having failed in his quest to find Jesus, but having done much good through charitable works. A voice tells him “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40) He dies in a calm radiance of wonder and joy. His treasures were accepted, and the Other Wise Man has found his King.
Like Artaban we often get sidetracked in our search of religious truths and acts of devotional piety and it can cause us to lose heart. If however, like Artaban, we too cultivate a good heart and look after those less fortunate than us, then we too have not missed the point of Jesus’ life. Jesus, more than an object of public worship, is a model for how we are to live our lives. In living lives committed to feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the ill, and visiting the imprisoned than we too, like Artaban in the story, will see God in heaven. (cf. Matthew 25:31-46)