Top Five Reasons Why the Wise Men Were Wise

Matthew 2:1-12 (Epiphany of the Lord, year b)

Nearly ten years ago, I attended World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany with a group of university students. The trip had a large impact on my life. While in Cologne we visited the famous gothic Cathedral which dominates the skyline of the city. An ornate, golden box within the Cathedral contains what is believed to be the remains of the Magi, or Wise Men, who we encountered in the Gospel. The Magi are enigmatic figures. Probably, much of what you think we know about them is inaccurate. For example, contrary to what the song We Three Kings would have us believe, the Gospel of Matthew - the only Gospel which speaks of the Magi - does not say that the Wise Men were kings or even that there were three of them! The Magi were probably from Persia, and members of the priestly caste. They were custodians of the religious and philosophical knowledge that had developed in the area. The Magi were also men of science, having particular interest and training in astronomy. One of the most memorable moments at World Youth Day in Cologne was the prayer vigil during which Pope Benedict spoke to my group (along one million others) about the need for us to imitate the Magi, becoming truly wise like them. To help us do this, I would like to share with you what I think are the “Top Five Reasons Why the Wise Men Were Wise”.

Reason #1: The Magi understood that all religions find fulfillment in Jesus
The Magi were not Jews. Though gentiles, they knew that God existed and that He was a gentle God. Perhaps they were aware of the prophecies of new king of the world to be born in Judea who would be intimately associated with God and work in His name. The Magi were pilgrims in search of God and true justice and peace. Their journey for truth, already kindled by the practice of their own religion, found its fulfilment in Jesus whom they worshipped as God and King. If we want to be wise, we need to understand that all religions find their fulfillment in Jesus. The Magi journeying to Jesus represents all religions of the world leading to Christ. Today more than ever, we need to maintain a balanced viewpoint. On the one hand, it is not correct to say that other religions have no value or are inherently evil. On the other hand, we cannot say that all religions are equally good and true and that we should not encourage people of other religions to come to know Jesus and become a part of the Church. As Catholics we profess that the “seeds of truth” are present and active in other religions. People in other religions can certainly have an authentic relationship with God. At the same time, we hold that all that is true and good in other religions points to and finds its completion in Jesus. For this reason we are called to evangelize all people, knowing that true human fulfillment comes from knowing Christ.

Reason #2: The Magi saw no contradiction between religion and science
The Magi were probably men well acquainted with the more advanced science of the time, specifically astronomy. The Magi were wise because their study of nature did not end with focusing solely on the stars but rather led them to seek out and ultimately worship the One who had created the stars. It is unfortunate that many people today think that science is somehow the enemy of religion. This is a pet peeve of mine. If we want to be wise, we do well to remember that “there is no insoluble contradiction between faith and reason because there is only one truth, to which both faith and reason refer”. God gave us a brain and He wants us to use it. Therefore, “Christian faith demands and promotes the (natural) sciences. Faith exists so that we might know things that are not apparent to reason yet are real above and beyond reason” (quotes from Youcat #23). From a Catholic perspective there is no reason why science and religion should be opposed. Period.

Reason #3: The Magi were able to see God’s presence where others could not
Certainly others saw the star and thought nothing of it. The Magi were wise because they recognized that God was active and speaking to them through the star. If we want to become wise, we must learn to appreciate how God is present and showing us His care and love in seemingly ordinary circumstances. Once Mother Teresa was searching to get a specific medication for a sick person. Unfortunately she was unable to find the medication in her region, in fact, it seemed it might be impossible to find in all of India. One day, just as the need for the medication was becoming severe, a package arrived from the United States. When Mother Teresa opened the package she found at the very top the medication that she was searching for. We might think, “now that is a lucky coincidence”. Mother Teresa, however, said “see the tender loving care of God, giving us what we need”. Mother Teresa was wise because she could recognize God’s presence and action where others could not.

Reason #4: The Magi took risks in order to follow God
In order to follow the star towards God, the Magi left their homes behind, much like Abraham did in response to God’s call. They travelled over 1000 km to visit Jesus. This entailed great risk and hardship. If we want to be wise we need to realize that following Jesus is not for the faint of heart. Being a Christian is a risky business.

Reason #5: The Magi knew that we cannot meet Jesus without changing our lives
Herod was incredibly threatened by Jesus and rejected Him because he did not want to give up his power or change his life. The Magi, on the other hand, were open to changing their lives. One large change they had to make was in the way they understood that God worked in the world. They expected the newborn King to be a powerful ruler, this is why they went to Jerusalem first. When they went and found Jesus in a humble, poor stable their preconceptions were shattered. They learned that true power does not consist in a king issuing decrees from his throne. True power is found when we offer our lives as a gift to others. The Magi were able to change what they thought able God as they worshipped Jesus, gave Him gifts and committed themselves to following His path. If we want to be wise we need to realize that we cannot follow Jesus without changing our way of thinking and acting.

As Pope Benedict reminded us, the Wise Men are models for us all. Let us pray that we may be wise as they were by becoming pilgrims who are ever restless seeking after Jesus Christ. Like the Magi, let us have the courage to change our lives as we encounter the Lord.