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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Mat. 2:1–12]

NOW when Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the days of king Herod, behold, there came three wise men, or Magi, from the East to Jerusalem, saying: “Where is He that is born king of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East, and are come to adore Him.” Herod, hearing this, was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And having assembled all the chief priests and scribes, and the ancients of the people, he inquired of them where Christ (the promised Messias) should be born. They said to him: “In Bethlehem of Juda, for so it is written by the prophet.”

Then Herod privately questioned the three Magi as to the exact time when the star appeared to them. When they had told him, he said: “Go, and search after the Child, and when you have found him, bring me word again, that I also may come and adore Him.”

The Magi set out for Bethlehem, and no sooner had they left the palace of Herod than the star, which they had not seen since their entrance into Jerusalem, again appeared in the heavens; and, following its guidance, they came to the place where the Divine Infant was, with Mary His Mother and St. Joseph. And entering in, they adored the Child, and opening their treasures they offered him gifts—gold, frankincense and myrrh (Fig. 67).

 

Fig. 67. Myrrh.

That night God appeared to the kings in a dream and commanded them not to return to Herod1. So they went back by another way to their own country. Thus was the wicked king disappointed in his expectation of finding out, by means of these strangers, the place where the Child was.

The Omniscience of God. He knew exactly the thoughts both of Herod and of the wise men. He knew that the latter, in their guilelessness, would show Herod the place where the Child lived, and He knew that Herod was resolved on the death of the Child. Therefore He bade the wise men return home another way.

Faithfulness of God. He caused the prophecy uttered by Micheas to be fulfilled, and, by a wonderful chain of circumstances, carried out His design that the Redeemer should be born at Bethlehem.

Jesus Christ is God and the Redeemer of all mankind, of Jews as well as Gentiles. He proved Himself to be such by revealing Himself after His Birth, first to the Jewish shepherds by means of His angel, and then to the Gentile Magi by means of His star. He manifested Himself as the Omnipotent God, and the Lord of hosts (of the angels and of the stars).

The properties of Faith. It is impossible not to admire the strong and living faith of the three wise men. They believed in the prophecy, from which they knew that the Redeemer would appear in Judæa, and that His advent would be heralded by a star. As soon, therefore, as they perceived the wonderful star, they set off on the road to Judæa. Full of a holy desire to behold and worship the Saviour, they did not shrink from the dangers or difficulties of the long journey. Nor did they despond when the star disappeared, but travelled on courageously, and sought in Jerusalem further information as to the place where the Saviour was to be born. Here, however, their faith was severely tried; for nobody in Jerusalem knew anything about the Redeemer’s Birth. It was they who first brought the tidings of it to the city, and the tidings did not awaken feelings of joy, but of trouble. This might easily have aroused within them doubts as to whether the sign in the heavens had deceived them; but they gave no place to such doubts, remaining firm in faith and unshaken by the opinion of others. They believed the prophecy of Micheas and the interpretation of it given by the chief priests and scribes, and, while it was still night, started for Bethlehem. No one from Jerusalem accompanied them; they travelled all alone to the city of David. One might have thought that all Jerusalem would have flocked with them to seek the Messias; but no! even the priests, doubtful or sceptical, remained behind, and left it to the Gentile kings to discover the new-born Saviour. This was by no means encouraging for the wise men, but they remained steadfast, and did not suffer their firm faith to be shaken. As a reward for their constancy, the wonderful star re-appeared, and led them to the house where the Child Jesus and His Mother had found a lodging. There, in a poor dwelling, they beheld a little Child with His poor and humble Maiden-Mother; and inspired by divine grace they threw themselves on their knees and, full of a living faith, worshipped this infant as their God and Saviour. “Would they have done this”, asks St. Augustine, “if they had not recognised Him as the Eternal King?”

True correspondence with grace. When our Lord was born, the angels sang: “Peace on earth to men of good will!” Now the Magi were men of good will. They co-operated with grace, and therefore obtained peace and salvation. How did the three wise men correspond with grace? It was grace which made them see the star and understand its meaning. No doubt many other wise men in the East understood that the star indicated the Birth of the Messias; but they did not stir to obey its divine invitation to seek for the Messias. But these three did obey the invitation of grace, and, leaving home and friends, undertook the far journey to Judæa. By corresponding faithfully with this first grace, they obtained the further one of learning in Jerusalem the place where the Messias was born. And because they believed the prophecy of Micheas and went to Bethlehem, God not only showed them the way to the Child’s abode, but illuminated them interiorly, so that they understood the mystery of the Incarnation, and worshipped the Child Jesus with divine worship. They so faithfully preserved this faith in the Divine Saviour that, according to a trustworthy tradition, they were counted worthy to suffer martyrdom for their faith, and are venerated as Saints by the Church. All this should impress upon us the important doctrine that the more a man co-operates with the grace given to him, the more worthy will he be to receive further and greater graces from God.

The indifference shown by the chief priests and scribes is almost inconceivable. They received through the wise men certain tidings of the wonderful star, and they knew accurately the prophecies about the Redeemer; but they did not co-operate with the grace received, and did not stir a foot to seek the Messias. They showed the wise men where the Messias was to be found, but they themselves remained at home. They waited for the Saviour to come to them; and when, later on, He did come to them, they would not receive Him, because He was poor and humble, but persecuted Him and nailed Him to the Cross!

Pride is a capital sin. Herod formed the cruel resolve to kill the Messias; and it was his pride, ambition and envy which led to this horrible design. In order to attain more surely his evil end, he dissembled and lied to the wise men, saying that he also wished to worship the Child. Lies and hypocrisy have been from the beginning the weapons used against Christ and His Church.

The Feast of the Three Magi, or the Feast of the Epiphany (Jan. 6th). The three wise men were the first Gentiles to whom our Lord manifested Himself as the Saviour of mankind; and as the representatives of the pagan world, which was sighing for its Redeemer, they offered their adoration to Him. We ought therefore, especially on this Feast, to thank God for the Christian faith, because our forefathers too were pagans; and we ought to praise the infinite love of God, who gave His only-begotten Son for the salvation of man.

The signification of the gifts of the wise men. The gifts offered to the Child Jesus by the wise men are full of deep significance. “In Israel incense could be offered to God alone, and could be burnt only before Jehovah! Any human king of Israel to whom incense was offered was an abomination in the sight of God” (Grimm). So by offering incense to the Child Jesus the Magi wished to express their worship of God hidden under the lowly form of a child. By the offering of gold they acknowledged Him as king. By the myrrh they desired to testify their veneration for the human nature of Jesus, which was destined to suffering, death and burial. They therefore offered gold to the king, incense to God, and myrrh to the man.

Worship of the Blessed Sacrament. It is the same Son of God whom the wise men worshipped under the form of a child, whom we, full of faith and reverence, worship in the most holy Sacrament of the Altar.

APPLICATION. You have received so many and such great graces from God. Have you always faithfully corresponded to them? Have you never actually resisted God’s grace? “We exhort you that you receive not the grace of God in vain!” (2 Cor. 6:1.)

You too can offer gifts to our Lord Jesus: the gold of love, the incense of worship, and the myrrh of patience in suffering.








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