The Gospel for January 8th, 2017: “The Visit of the Magi”
Reflection: Humility and Homage
With years behind me of seeing Nativity tableaus at Christmas time, I have often taken the presence of the Magi at Jesus’s primitive nursery for granted. On second look, their presence there is an extraordinary witness of faith and humility. Whether we view them as kings or wisemen or something in between, these are men of power and privilege who do not act the part. More accurately, they are Christian pilgrims who display an inspiring holiness.
The clues to this holiness start with the circumstances of their leaving. I don’t know where in the East their journey began, but it was probably long and arduous. How many men of power would personally undertake such a journey to find the “newborn King of the Jews” (2)? Would they not send a scout in their place? In contrast, Herod, who is also a man of power and just as interested in finding the baby-king, does not seek out Jesus in person. Instead, he secretly asks the Magi to find this king for him and then report back to him his location (7-8). He is not willing to undergo the hardship and may intuitively realize that only those with sincere hearts may approach this divine king. His interest is to find and remove a threat to his power which is later confirmed by his order to kill all the infant boys of Bethlehem to make sure this new king does not survive. The Magi are foils to this selfish jealousness; they appear to be genuinely seeking a power greater than themselves. Furthermore, they do it on the faith that is the right thing to do, despite the personal inconvenience of the required journey.
Their quest is rewarded and they find Jesus. Once again, we must marvel at their acceptance of the surprising trappings that surround the king of kings. They do not express doubt or keep looking when they find him in poverty and filth. Instead they lay down before Jesus on the dirt upon entering the house with complete humility. Afterwards, they generously give him the most precious gifts they have to offer (11). These are men who are willing to strip themselves of all prestige, pride, and wealth in the presence of their savior. Their desire to act with humility and holiness is impressive by any standards.
Finally, they are content with the fulfillment of their mission and trust in the direction they receive in a dream not to return to Herod (12). How many of us would act so faithfully after experiencing a miracle of power and joy? It seems to me the temptation either to use this knowledge to enhance their own status by returning to Herod with the coveted information or simply to begin telling others what they found because they think this news needs to be heard would be very difficult to resist. But they leave under divine orders and obey. They accept all their mission requires of them, even if it doesn’t fully make sense to human logic.
So whatever they may have been before their journey, the Magi we meet in Matthew’s gospel are truly wise in their humility, homage, and generosity in the presence of Christ. As such, they are models to follow as we go on our pilgrimages through Christian lives. Like them, we must disbelieve in our own importance and walk with humility and faith in both prosperity and adversity, trust in the signs we see of Christ’s love and providence, and give graciously our most precious gifts to God’s mission since they have been given to us by Him for a purpose.