The National Catholic Review

The central point of the Magi story is clear: gentiles treat Jesus as a king, whereas 'all Jerusalem' is greatly disturbed by news of a newly born 'King of the Jews', the title currently held by Herod the Great as a gift from Rome.  One finds little 'openness' to gentiles from Jesus in his public life; it is clear that Matthew has Jesus insist that he has been "sent only to the lost sheep of Israel" (15,24).  Only the end of the Gospel finally suggests an offer of faith to 'the nations' (Matt 28, 19), but, regretfully, there is no preaching reported by Matthew to these nations.  The concentration on Israel throughout the public life of Jesus has signaled to many scholars to think of Matthew's gospel as concerned with a contemporary (c.85AD) struggle between Jews: Jews who do not believe in Jesus (a majority) who oppress Jews who do believe in Jesus (a minority) - with Matthew's Gospel a defense on behalf of the minority, believing group of Jews.  Gentiles have no part in this conflict. 

Yet, Matthew does want to talk a bit about gentiles (obviously, in 85AD many Christians were non-Jews).  And it is not satisfying to see in the magi only a foil to the anger and fear of 'all Jerusalem; the magi's journey, discovery and worship take up too much time for them to be only a literary foil.

I would like to write here only about one facet of this story.  It is curious to see that the gentiles find Jesus only through a cooperation between two systems which seek truth.  On the one hand, there is nature (in this case the sky) which is the fertile beginning of the truth about a king.  On the other hand, the gentiles actually find the king only with the indispensible help of the Jewish Scriptures.  In the end, it is the two sources of truth which find the truth.  Further, since the star not only brings the gentiles to Jerusalem, but also brings them to the exact house where lives the Holy Family, one is impressed by the possibilities that nature possesses in the unfolding of the divine reality.  True, the magi learn much from the Jewish Scriptures, but they ultimately find Jesus only through the star. 

That nature is a source of revelation about God has been, over centuries, a strong belief; modern science does not seem to be the only source of truth but must live alongside of nature's revelations.  That Jewish Scriptures are an invaluable aid in the discovery of the meaning of Jesus, and of God's plan for human beings - this also is  true, but again this source of knowledge can only be seen, at least in this Matthean story, as a companion which works with nature (and does not supplant it). 

It is an opinion of certain scholars that the magi story never really happened; it is only a Matthean concoction meant to convey the truth about Jesus.  On the supposition for the moment that they are correct, why would Matthew think that nature is the valuable font of revelation about God that he has made it in his story?  Perhaps the answer is that Matthew himself is true to his Jewish tradition, a tradition in which, as particularly the Psalms and Books of Wisdom teach, nature speaks to human beings about the creator of nature.

In light of this biblical literature, then, should we of 2011 look beyond the Scriptures and formulations of faith to the full reality around us, confident that it can and does reveal God to His creatures? 

Comments

D Weidenbenner | 1/2/2011 - 7:40am
If scientists could just pry open creation a little more, then scientists would possess infinite minds.  Right?