Category Archives: Matthew’s Gospel

Learned men followed the star to Bethlehem

The Magi Journeying

The wise men journeying from the East

Last year we studied the gospel Infancy Narratives before Christmas, and when viewing the crèche at church, I focused on the humble shepherds privileged to be the first visitors to the Christ Child. This year my thoughts focused on the magi – otherwise known as the wise men, the three kings. They were men of wealth and education, men from foreign lands. Having them present in Bethlehem, worshipping the infant Jesus, celebrates the universality of Christ’s salvation. He came to earth in the form of man to save (paraphrasing Paul) Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, men and women, rich and poor.

I also imagine the magi as seekers and risk-takers. They left behind lives of privilege to follow a star of knowledge.

We are seekers in this Bible class. We enrolled to expand our knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures and, wittingly or not, we opened our hearts to change. What a blessing has been the experience in my life.

One other thought on the topic of seekers. Recently I’ve been reading a book by Msgr. Thomas Halik of Prague in an effort to understand the prevalence of atheism in Czech Republic and other post-Communist countries. In Patience with God: The Story of Zaccheus Continuing in Us, he writes of atheists as seekers. They may know little about the institutional Church, and yet many of them have a form of faith, a spiritual sensibility. They are curious about Christianity, about Catholicism. They are interested, but shy. They are hidden but watchful.

He likens them to the gospel story of Zaccheus in Jericho, the tax collector of short stature who heard Jesus was coming to town. He climbed a tree so he could better see. Jesus called him to come down, saying He would eat that evening in Zaccheus’ house.

Not all seekers have the inclination to drop everything and pursue knowledge of God, as did the magi. Many are shy, and they need to be called by name.

Look around, as Halik says. The trees are full of seekers.

Conflation and the gospels

Birth of Jesus in a Kabyle Catholic book

Image via Wikipedia

In studying the Infancy Narratives, I am stunned by the power of the imagination. Most all Christians have vivid images of baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, sheep and shepherds, kings and camels, star and angels. But none of these are true to the gospels, as we are now learning. Oh, I understood that St. Francis back in the 13th century had something to do with development of the crèche tradition. But conflation—the melding of varying stories into one—must go back much further than that. Take the star and the wise men from Matthew, the angels, shepherds, and manger from Luke, and you have one compelling story.

The readings and questions for this lesson keep confounding me. Mary and Joseph may have lived in Bethlehem before the birth of Jesus? Surely not. The wise men may have visited Jesus as a toddler rather than an infant? Surely not. My confusion brings home the importance of what Gene has stressed: We must study each gospel as an independent unit.

It also brings to mind several other instances of conflation involving the New Testament: The women and men at the foot of the cross. Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, and the woman with the alabaster jar. The passion story itself. Frankly, I was unsettled the first time I realized how much the gospels varied in telling the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. But then I realized the power of having four traditions all telling the same basic story. Gives the word awesome a whole different meaning.