Saturday, January 2, 2016
Over several hundred years, Christian imagination, legend, and tradition have embellished Matthew’s story – for in his revelation he does not tell us that the Magi were wise, or men, or kings, or that there were three, or that they were from the Orient, nor does he speak of their mode of transportation, and he certainly misses the mark by not providing names of the Magi . . . it is not so much the details that are important; it is the meaning of Matthew’s message.
Among Matthew’s Jewish community, they were finding it difficult to accept that God came for all, and not just a few. They were clinging to the idea that if you want to follow Jesus, to be one of his disciples, you had to first be a Jew. And if you were male, then you had to be circumcised; then if you were to become Christian, you had to continue to fulfill all the rules of the law. This is why Matthew writes this story . . .this is the mystery, that God is now revealed to all nations, and God has come to transform all of human history, all peoples of all times.
These Magi were Gentiles- (non-Jews –not part of the Chosen People); they were from the Persian priestly class from the East, which is present day Iraq and Iran. They were star-gazers who observed the movements of the planets and stars. They were wisdom figures, interpreters of dreams, skilled in medicine, natural science and astrology. This was condemned by the Jewish religion.
In the ancient world, it was believed that the Magi could foretell the future from the stars, and they believed that a person’s destiny was determined by the star under which the person was born. Scholars do not know which star the Magi saw, but it spoke to them about the entry of a king into the world.
The Magi represent the whole Gentile world. According to medieval legends, they were named Melchior, Balthazar, and Gaspar. Each of them came from a different culture: Melchior was Asian, Balthazar was Persian, and Gaspar was Ethiopian, representing the three races known to the old world at that time.
Author John Shea writes that there is a legend that the Magi were three different ages. Gaspar was a young man, Balthazar in his middle years, and Melchior a senior citizen. When they approached the cave at Bethlehem, they first went in one at a time. Melchior found an old man like himself with whom he was quickly at home. They spoke together of memory and gratitude. The middle-aged Balthazar encountered a teacher of his own years. They talked passionately of leadership and responsibility. When Gaspar entered, a young prophet met him with words of reform and promise.
The three met outside the cave and marveled at how each had gone in to see a newborn child, but each had met someone of his own years. They gathered their gifts in their arms and entered together a second time. In a manger on a bed of straw was a child twelve days old.
The message is that Christ speaks to every stage of the life process – the young hear the call to identity and intimacy, the middle-aged hear the call to generativity and responsibility, and the elders seek to hear the call to integrity and wisdom. We all seek to find the Christ in each stage of our own lives and the gift that is given us is that we find ourselves as well.