Jenny Gray

January 11, 2018 | Jenny Gray

Two Paths

The Magi story from Matthew is one of response to the possibility of God coming into the world, to the reality of Christ and there are two themes here; the response of Herod and the response of the Magi themselves.

Herod. A man of power. A ruler. What the world would call a great man. What is his response to the news that the Messiah has been born? Joy? Reverence? No, he sees this not as good news, not as gospel, but as a mortal threat to himself and his position. Is this surprising? I don't know. Perhaps a wise and good ruler would have seen the Christ in earthly terms as a successor, someone to bring into his household and honour and teach and learn from. Maybe I'm expecting too much from the princes of the earth but there was no moderation in Herod's actions. Consumed by fear, he went on to order the slaughter of the Holy Innocents. An extreme response.

The Magi. The Wise Ones. These are also people of some material means or political power it seems, as they have the resources to travel from the east (perhaps Persia) bringing expensive gifts and are able to gain access to Herod's court. Why did they come? They had nothing really to gain from it as far as I can see, in material or social terms and after they go home they're never spoken of again in the scriptures. No, their journey was an act of faith, and an expression of their wonder. Their response was also extreme but they were on a spiritual path, they were open to the new and the holy and perhaps critically they don't seem to have had any hang-ups about their own importance.

Holy scriptures often use extremes as a teaching method. Sometimes these extremes are somewhat overlapping in nature - consider the judgement criteria at the end of Matthew 25. Who among us other than perfect saints (if there are any) can honestly say we have fed, watered, clothed and visited everyone in need we have ever come across? Who among us other than the truly demonic (if there are any) has never, ever helped anyone in need for whatever purpose? The extremes may then may be there to teach. This is what good looks like, this is what evil looks like, so learn and act. I would suggest the story of the Magi can be used the same way.

In all things and at all times, we have the capability of choosing the way of fear or choosing the way of faith. The way of fear, of protecting our own position and power at the expense of others, of selfishness, leads to hurting those around us and hurting ourselves. It's the path of darkness and destruction ultimately. The way of faith by contrast is trust in and cooperation with divine goodness, of selflessness, and it is joy, and wonder, and humility and peace. We all have it within us to be, like the Magi, Wise Ones.