Is 60:1-6; Eph 3: 2-3; 5-6; Mt 2:2-22
Epiphany of the Lord
Think fast – how many wise men came to visit the baby Jesus?
If you said “Three” – sorry, you are not a winner. Probably not, anyway. All the story tells us is that “magi” came from the East – the plural of “magician” – so we can say with certainty based on the story that there were more than one. The magi bring three gifts – and the Catholic imagination has assigned one gift per wise man. (I’ve long felt that the one who had to carry all of that gold really was taken advantage of.)
So, how many magi came to Bethlehem? Read the passage from Isaiah and you’ll get some idea of what Matthew was likely thinking. Especially the part that says: “Caravans of camels shall fill you (Jerusalem)…bearing gold and frankincense.”
If Matthew is presenting his story of the Magi as a dramatic illustration of Isaiah’s messianic prophesy- and attributing messianic prophesies of the Old Testament to Jesus is something Matthew regularly does- then we are meant to imagine caravans of magi – hundreds? thousands?- making their way to the birthplace of the Messiah.
Just think of it for a moment. No wonder King Herod was shaking in his royal boots.
Now, wait a minute, you might ask. How could all of those guys fit inside a small stable?
Well……you might want to read the gospel story carefully, too. Let me know if you find a stable there.
The truth is, if you can for a moment erase the creche scene in your head and read the infancy narratives in Luke’s gospel and the infancy narratives in Matthew’s gospel as the two independent tradtions that they are you will find yourself imagining two distinctly different accounts of the birth of Jesus.
Which account is true? The easy answer is, “both”, because both gospels are a part of inspired Scripture. That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that both must be historically accurate,.
Truth, as any mature believer knows, comes at us on many levels. When I used to tell my children, after reading a certain book to them, that I loved them “to the moon and back” I never really thought I’d be making the trip. (Good thing too, as I’m too old and too fat to be an astronaut.) What both Matthew and Luke proclaim is that – whenever and in whatever circumstances Jesus was born- the world was fundamentally changed forever and the deepest dreams and hopes of human beings were fulfilled.
When reading the scriptures, as so often in life – never let the facts get in the way of the Truth.
Jim Philipps (3rd millennium pilgrim)
(You can purchase book length versions of my scripture reflections through amazon.com or at www.twentythirdpublications.com. I am always available to lead days of reflection and retreats based on the scriptures. You can contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org)