Body and Blood of Christ

The Coming of the Magi

Matthew 2:1-20

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? ForFeast of the epiphany we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come  a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'" Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage."  When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and  his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I  tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, "Out of Egypt I have called my son." When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more."  When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child's life are dead."

Drinking Well

The Magi

One asks of a story: What does it mean? This is the question we should ask of the Magi story. There is little point in looking for the homeland of the magi. Nor is there any point in looking to a comet, a supernova or a planetary conjunction to account for 'his star'. A star which rises, goes before, and comes to rest over a place is no natural phenomenon. More to the point is that, for Matthew, the magi represent the Gentiles, fittingly alerted not by an angel (as Luke's Jewish shepherds) but by a star. Their coming anticipates the promise of Jesus: 'many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven' (Mt.8:11). The liturgical tradition of Epiphany has caught Matthew's intention.

Matthew has the magi joyfully follow the guiding star to the house where they found child and mother. Fittingly, they had brought gifts for the king: gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The three gifts were, later, to suggest three magi (Matthew does not specify); and the gifts themselves were given symbolic meanings.

The Old Testament, and popular tradition based on it, form the basis of Matthew's magi story. His magi are Gentiles, illustrating the universal reach of the good news brought by the 'king of the Jews'. They are people of good will, ready to hear and follow the call of God. They are people ready to follow a star, wherever it might lead. Open and starry-eyed, they are naïve, guileless, easily taken-in by self-serving priests and a murderous king. They are romantic and loveable figures.

Wilfrid Harrington.





Quill Pen


This is the Story of Jesus drawn from the four Evangelists

handful of pure aromatic frankincense


Three wise men

Unfolding the Story of jesus

Gospel passages accompanied by a number of brief commentaries

Unfolding the story of jesus