What did the three Magi come to see in Israel? Did they come to make money? Did they come to sell their goods? Did they come to buy? What did the three Magi come to see?
It was over 600 miles from what was then Babylon to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Tradition says they probably traveled by camel, as traders and merchants had traveled for centuries. Over 600 miles! Why did they undertake such a trip?
Why didn’t the chief priests and scribes of Jerusalem travel to Bethlehem? We know they knew the prophecy. Herod was concerned, so he called them to seek information after the visit of the Magi to Jerusalem. As we heard,
“Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
They said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea,
for thus it has been written through the prophet:
“And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
since from you shall come a ruler,
who is to shepherd my people Israel.”’
Bethlehem was only 6 miles from Jerusalem. That is about the same as the distance from Sacred Heart Parish to St. Mary’s Cathedral downtown.
The religious and civil leaders of Jerusalem knew the prophet Micah’s prophecy of the Messiah and knew where it was to take place. Yet, they didn’t even go six miles to find out. But these strangers, these pagans, gentiles – – non-Jews – – traveled over 600 miles to see for themselves.
Did they know what they were going to see when they arrived in Bethlehem? They had no idea. They didn’t even know they were headed for Bethlehem when they began their journey. The Magi didn’t have the prophecy from the Old Testament. Yet they came a very long distance for something. They were astrologers. They followed a star, seeking a new King of Israel.
What we are witnessing involves an action of God, who inspired these pagan Magi to seek the birthplace of a new king. They came with an openness of spirit and heart. The Magi had no idea what they would find. They must have found it strange that they were coming so far for something they didn’t fully understand, while the king and religious leaders in Jerusalem knew, but didn’t care enough to go and see for themselves.
The Magi found Jesus. They encountered God.
They didn’t find anyone rich or powerful. They found a poor family. They personally met Mary, the Mother of God and Joseph her spouse. That encounter with Jesus created an epiphany for them. That encounter caused them to ponder and grow in understanding and generosity. How do you react when you encounter God? That epiphany of God led them into a profound generosity. They opened their treasures and gave the Infant Jesus valuable gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
It is interesting to see how people respond when they find God. It is very much like a couple that falls in love. Once they acknowledge their love for one another they come to believe and to act, like “Everything I have is yours. Everything I am is yours.” These are the actions of a deep, spiritual conversion. “What is mine is yours. Everything.” The Magi were changed forever. The example of their generosity stands as a sign for us as we come to know Jesus.
Generosity is the fruit of finding Jesus. Generosity is the fruit of conversion and deep love. Love calls us to give generously.
In contrast, King Herod and the chief priests and scribes wanted to destroy the Messiah. Instead of generosity, they grew in hate and indifference.
How will we be known by God and others? With hate or indifference?
Or, with profound generosity? Take a look at your own generosity as a sign of your faith and love. Does your faith make you generous? If so, you have opened your heart to God.
If not, you stand with King Herod. That is how we know ourselves.