Commented Bible Passages

These Bible meditations are meant as a way of seeking God in silence and prayer in the midst of our daily life. During the course of a day, take a moment to read the Bible passage with the short commentary and to reflect on the questions which follow. Afterwards, a small group of 3 to 10 people can meet to share what they have discovered and perhaps for a time of prayer.

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Matthew 2:1-12: Jesus, Herod, the Magi and Us
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (Matthew 2:1-12)

Coming right after the birth of Jesus, chapter 2 of Matthew’s Gospel sets before us two contrasting sets of figures: King Herod, together with the chief priests and scribes of Jerusalem, and the Magi, a mysterious group of travelers from the east. Herod is troubled when he hears that the visitors have come in search of a newborn king of the Jews and immediately makes inquiries about the potential rival. After the genealogy and dreams which lead up to the birth of Jesus in chapter one, Matthew’s Gospel plunges us now into the world of jealousy and human intrigue. If Herod is simply deceptive, the attitude of the chief priests and scribes is more difficult to read. Why should they be assisting Herod in identifying the birthplace of Jesus? Are they submissive and naive? Or are they already hostile to Christ?

In comparison the Magi are earnest seekers, oblivious to the calculations of Herod and his advisors. They see, as it were, only the tiny light shining in the darkness. They wish to find the infant king and are ready to go to whatever lengths necessary in order to offer him homage. At the same time, it is hard to know who they are exactly. If later tradition has often pictured them as kings, the Greek term used here has a multitude of possible meanings, none of which suggest royalty. The word can refer to Persian priests, magicians or even astrologers. Scholars today believe it possible that certain circles among Judah’s eastern neighbors may have been influenced by Jewish expectations for a coming Messiah. Could an unusual phenomenon in the night skies have caught the attention of some of them—interest in the stars was legendary in the region—and led them to set out to Jerusalem? That people of other lands and religions are drawn to Jesus, even as a child, is also significant: in Christ, God is speaking to the hearts and minds of all people. It is interesting too that the Magi finally hear about Bethlehem through Herod. Strangely enough, it is the fearful king who points the Magi along the last part of their journey to Jesus.

Upon arriving at the house in Bethlehem, the Magi are “overjoyed.” This is a powerful word. We are reminded of a passage in the prophet Isaiah: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; light has shone on those who lived in a land of darkness. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased their joy” (Isaiah 9:2-3a). These travelers from the east, bearing exotic, luxurious gifts fit for a king, prostrate themselves before the infant and his mother. The frontiers of God’s people are expanding. A joy beyond imagining can be sought and found by all, for it is present now in our midst.

- What impression does Herod make on me, and how do I interpret the attitude of the chief priests and scribes? Can I identify with the Magi or are they just strange figures, impossible for me to place?

- The Magi begin their journey led by a tiny light shining in the night sky, then reach their destination thanks to their halt in Jerusalem. How have I been led toward Jesus?

- What detail most catches my attention in the Magi’s arrival in Bethlehem and the homage they offer to Jesus?

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Last updated: 1 June 2024