Jesus said to his disciples:
Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it (Lk 10:23-24).
Jesus is speaking of prophets and kings of earlier generations but Scripture tells a story of “wise men” who were blessed with “eyes that see.” What can we learn from them?
We know the story of the magi, sort of. They were wise men from the east and they followed a star, stopping first to consult the local authority, King Herod, to gather more information. As Allen Ross says in his analysis of the story:
“magi” were men of the “priestly caste…famous for their learning and their wisdom…they carefully observed stars and planets…anything out of the ordinary would be taken as some kind of an omen.”
They must have taken great pains to research this extraordinary star. Perhaps they learned of the messianic prophecy of Israel which caused them to seek out the most important person of Israel, the king, to give them direction.
This might explain the course of events that brought the magi first to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem, but it doesn’t reveal the significance of their actions. It doesn’t take into account what stirred in them to take a journey of at least one hundred miles (assuming that “from the east” means Mesopotamia). These magi possessed more than knowledge of the stars, they had “eyes that see.”
There is more to the story than first meets the eye. There is a double meaning here, the magi were known for their wisdom of astronomy, but in the case of the messiah, it was wisdom born of humility that led them to the incarnate God.
The magi followed a sign that they saw, but it was faith that moved them toward the birthplace of Jesus. With faith they traveled many miles along dusty roads. Can you see them? Moving by night when the star was visible to them? Stopping to rest and nourish themselves and their animals in the heat of the day?
Wisdom implies that they journeyed using careful calculations and good judgment. Wisdom suggests that they collaborated and consulted with one another along the way. Wisdom imbued with faith, however, is what they had, and it is different from worldly wisdom. Faith is the response of the heart. Faith takes into account what cannot be seen. Faith motivated the magi to endure a difficult journey. Yes, they followed a star, little did they know that they were also following God.
Yet, the magi exhibit faith along with wisdom and humility when they arrive at their destination. We see their humility as they react:
On entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Mt 2:11).
They worshipped. These wise men from the east, astronomers, not scripture scholars, not Israelites, prostrated themselves and paid homage to the child, accepting him as their king! A star led them to him, but their hearts knew him.
We do not know how long the magi stayed with the holy family, but we do know that they remained attentive to God – heeding a dream to avoid King Herod as they departed Bethlehem. The amount of time that they spent with Jesus is not the point, their response to him is. It is the same for us.
I often long for magi wisdom and humility. There are times when my prayer is simply an appeal for wisdom. I find myself saying, “I don’t know what to do, Lord. Please help me.” Other times, while praying the daily Examen, I become painfully aware of some fault or failure of mine. Discovering a failure is a mixed blessing: noticing it allows me to ask for forgiveness and God’s grace to correct the failure and recognizing it helps me to grow in humility. It makes me aware of how much I need God’s grace in order to approach others in a kinder, gentler way.
As you await the Christ child, can you imagine the journey that you might travel to him? Might you journey past the dirty dishes, the laundry, and your to-do list to follow the star that leads to Christ? The journey will be fraught with the danger of interruptions from your electronic devices and distracted thoughts but perhaps you can persevere and arrive at a quiet destination where you look upon Jesus. Relax. Speak to him. Does he already know what gift you need? Maybe he wants to surprise you with something unexpected! Tell him about the gifts that you bring to him – your desire for a relationship with him; your trust in him; your efforts to use the talents that he has given you; your desire to please him. And ask Jesus for the gift that he desires to give you.
Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.
- Prayerfully reflect on Journey of the Magi by T.S. Eliot
Photo by Gerd Altman on Pixabay