The Visit of the Magi
The Magi have always enjoyed a good degree of popularity. As early as 150 years after the birth of Jesus, their images were already engraved in the Christian cemeteries. And Christians seemed to be never satisfied with the information contained in the Scriptures about them and took care in providing all the missing details such as: Where they came from; How many they were; What their names were; What means of transportation they had; What they did upon returning to their land; And where they are buried.
Thanks to so many creative minds we get to know that they were kings; their number was three; they came one from Africa, one from Asia and one from Europe; one was white, one black and the other yellow; they were guided by a star; they met at a certain point, then proceeded together up to Bethlehem; their names were Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazar; and traveled riding camels and dromedaries; upon returning to their lands, all reached the age of 120 and by that time they saw the star again; each follow the star and they happened to meet again during the Misa de Gallo in the city of Anatolia, Germany; in that same day all of them died happily together; then their remains went for a tour around the world and when the round was complete they were brought to rest in peace; today their tombs can be found in the Colony Cathedral, in Germany. Isn’t this amazing? Obviously these are all stories.
In order for us to grasp what message Mathew wants to convey through the story of the Magi we need to clarify some points. First of all the Magi were not kings. Certainly they belonged to a group of people in the antiquity who were well known for knowing how to interpret dreams and predict the future by studying the flight of the birds and observing the sky; they would read God’s will through the ordinary and extra-ordinary events. No wonder why they saw in the star that suddenly appeared a message from God.
Regarding the star, it used to be normal to believe that a star appeared in the sky when somebody important was born.
Many contemporary astronomers wasted a lot of time researching and finding out if 2010 years ago a comet passed through the skies of Israel. But they should have spent their precious time doing something better for the “star” of the Scriptures has nothing to do with the “stars” of astronomy.
A good way to understand this passage thus is to go back to the Book of Numbers chapters 22-24. There we find the interesting story of Balaam and his speaking donkey. Balaam was a fortuneteller from the East just as the Magi of today’s Gospel. One day, and by chance, he made a very remarkable prophecy: “I see him, but it is not going to happen soon; I feel him but he is not here nearby; a star rises from the stump of Jacob, a kingdom starting from Israel… a shoot out of Jacob will reign over the enemies.” This is the way Balaam, the man with penetrating eyes, spoke about around 1,200 years before Christ. Since then, the Israelites would wait for this star who was nothing less than the Messiah.
This language and images were very familiar to Mathew and his readers. By presenting the Magi who saw the star, he is somehow saying that that shoot of Jacob has finally arrived, that the prophecy had being fulfilled. The star the Magi saw and worshiped is no other than Jesus. The First reading of today attests that when the light of the Lord would finally shine over Jerusalem, all the peoples would flock to Zion. Again, Matthew sees in the Magi the fulfillment of the prophecy. They represent the pagan peoples who guided by the light go to Jerusalem to bring their gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Therefore, the Magi represent all the peoples of the earth who allow themselves to be guided by the light that is Christ. They are actually the image of the Church that is a family formed by all the peoples of the world coming from different races, tribes, languages and nations. The reality of Jesus Christ is the same for all, but people respond in different ways. Some, like the Magi, bow and worship the light. Others, just ignore its presence, and others still do all they can to put it off.
Those who are able to recognize Jesus and respond accordingly are those who let themselves to be enkindled by the light of the scriptures which always point to him.