THE MAGI IN JERUSALEM
“And Herod the King hearing this, was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And assembling together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where Christ should be born. But they said to him, In Bethlehem of Judea: for as it is written by the Prophet: ‘And thou, Bethlehem, the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah: for out of thee shall come forth the ruler, who shall rule my people Israel.’ Then Herod, privately calling the Wise Men, inquired of them diligently the time of the star’s appearing to them. And sending them into Bethlehem said, ‘Go, and search diligently after the Child, and when you have found Him, bring me word again, that I also may come and adore Him.”
1. It is proverbial, it is illustrated again and again in history and in literature, that the greatest unbelievers, above all those who are faithless with a bad conscience, are the most superstitious people in the world. Herod is no exception to this rule; one may say his character is fairly well analyzed in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, except that the latter had at least an early record that was clean. He was dominated by superstitious fears, buoyed up by superstitious hopes; the coming of the Magi was one more of the influences that guided him in the merciless plans he was for ever framing. But “the chief priests and scribes”–what are we to think of them? What a contrast is this recognition of prophecy to that last cry before another ruler: “We have no King but Caesar.” Here at least they accepted the evidence; they were not interested enough to question or deny it; its significance, and therefore their opposition, would develop later.
2. But there is perhaps no passage in the New Testament which more clearly displays the mind of the Jews than this. It is agreed by all, Christians and non-Christians alike, that they were full of the spirit of prophecy. Not only did they accept direct prophecy as they had received it, but they took the whole record of the Old Testament as prophetic; they interpreted passage after passage in a prophetic sense, though literally they had no such meaning; even the events and persons in their past history they held to be significant of the Christ that was to come. And the Holy Ghost guided them in their interpretation; as this, and several other passages quoted by the evangelists show, they were not wrong, even though they proved themselves utterly unworthy of the guidance. Though men fail Him, God still keeps His Church infallible.
3. The Magi came into Jerusalem, and found the “faithful” Jews seemingly indifferent. They made their inquiries in all simplicity, and found they had created a hubbub. The Church of Jerusalem had apparently gone to sleep, and was so roused to a fever by these strangers knocking at the door. Light and grace had come from an unexpected quarter, in an unexpected moment, and the “faithful” did not know what to make of it. Clearly it was light, clearly it was grace; but light and grace are sometimes annoying to those who have settled down in a contentment of indifference. They would send these Wise Men on; they themselves would not move. If the King should afterwards be found to suit their turn, they could take up His cause later; if not, they could remain where they were. There was another alternative; but that at the time did not trouble them. It was continued in the King’s own words: “He that is not with Me is against Me.”
Summary Meditation Points:
- The character of Herod and of the chief priests and scribes.
- The Jewish mind in regard to prophecy.
- The treatment of the Magi in Jerusalem.
Art: The Magi in the House of Herod, James Tissot, between 1886 and 1894, PD-US, Restored Traditions, used with permission. Archbishop Alban Goodier, S.J., www.stmaryscadoganstreet.co.uk, all rights reserved, used with permission.