Epiphany 1-13-2019

Pastor's Summary of Matthew 2:1-12

Matthew, in writing "In the time of King Herod", sets a late date for the birth of Jesus: Herod the Great, puppet king of Judah, died in 4 BC. "Wise men" (Latin: magi) were memebers of a Persian caste of astrologers and interpreters of dreams. (Astrology was widely accepted then.) A star was associated with each person; the way the star rose told the wise men that a king had been born. If the story of the star is intended to be historically significant, the star may have been a supernova or a comet, or a conjuction of planets. Numbers 24:17-24 prophesies that "...a star shall come out of Jacob, a sceptre shall rise out of Israel", and that this ruler will conquer surrounding nations.

Herod's fears are aroused because his dynasty may be ended. He consults the religious experts to find out where the magi should look for the Messiah. They answer with Scripture: they loosely blend Micah 5:2 and 2 Samuel 5:2. (Such license was common at the time.) At David's anointing as king, the elders quote God as saying "he shall be shepherd of my people Israel". The maximum age of the children to be killed per Herod's edict tells us the :exact time" that he learnt from the wise men. V. 8 is classical political duplicity. The star guides them to Bethlehem, where they are "overwhelmed with joy". The gifts are extremely generous; "gold" and "frankincense" are mentioned in v. 6 of today's first reading.

We read that Gentile wise men visited Jesus. A later church tradition called the wise men kings, based on v. 10 of today's psalm, and still later the Church said that there were three of them. The Western church gave them names.