05.01.2020 — Worship and Hostility

Epiphany, Sunday – 05th January 2020 — Gospel: Matthew 2,1-12

Worship and Hostility

This story of the magi can be divided into five scenes: 1) the arrival of the magi (2,1-2); 2) Herod’s alarm and consultation of the priests and scribes (2,3-6); 3) Herod’s request of the magi (2,7-8); 4) the magi’s visit and adoration of child Jesus (2,9-11); and 5) the departure of the magi (2,12). The magi represent the first of many characters to “worship” Jesus in Matthew. The first, third, and fourth scenes are punctuated by the verb “worship” or “pay homage”. The magi take the role of the Gentiles who will come and worship the child bringing gifts to the Messiah according to Psalm 72,10-11. The worship of Jesus here and elsewhere in Matthew (8,2; 9,18; 14,33; 15,25; 20,20; 28.9.17) has Christological significance. Jesus is marked as one in whom God is present with us (1,23). Even though the three magi were guided by the star, yet the inroad to worship the messiah was really difficult. They reached Bethlehem via Jerusalem.

The sincerity of the magi’s worship of Jesus is contrasted with the hostility of Herod, who expresses insincere desire to worship Jesus.  In reality, King Herod, who was threatened by the magi’s title “king of the Jews”, will try to eliminate his rival by killing all the innocents. Thus, Jesus faces the first of the opposition by the powerful people. Matthew probably has Jesus’ death already in view when he has the magi refer to Jesus as “the king of the Jews”. Hostility of Herod is an anticipation of the charge under which Jesus will eventually be crucified (27,11.29.37).

Matthew’ story is indeed about kings and wise men. The kings in Matthew 2 are Herod and Jesus. Herod is a tyrant king, who lords over others rather than serving them. By contrast, the infant king Jesus is helpless and vulnerable, a ruler whose power is hidden in humility. The wise men in Matthew 2 are the chief priests and scribes, who function as Herod’s key advisors. They possessed academic knowledge that Herod and magi lacked. Their knowledge does not lead them to their Messiah but causes them to become involved in a plot to kill him (27,1-2.11-26). However, the magi are depicted as persons who do as they are instructed, who seek no honor for themselves, and who gladly humble themselves, kneeling before a woman and a child. Clearly the magi from the East fit into the image of servants better than king Herod and elders.