|artist Della Conroy|
by John J. Pilch, Odyssey Program
The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland
The Magi come seeking the newly born king of Judeans. Matthew and Matthew’s Jesus during his ministry routinely identify God’s people as “Israel” (see 2:6; also 8:10; 9:33; 10:6, 23; 15:24,31; 19:28; 27:9). Three groups make up this people: “Judeans,” “Galileans,” and “Pereans.” Outsiders ignored these distinctions and called everyone “Judeans” (the Greek word is often incorrectly translated “Jews”). Pilate calls Jesus of Nazareth in Galilee “King of the Judeans” (John 19:19-22).
Word that these visitors from the East are seeking a newly born king of Judeans strikes fear into the heart of old Herod who is the current, living king of Judeans. He knows that he has no newly born heir.
Then Matthew draws a contrast between these honorable visitors and the fearful ruler. Herod calls for the Magi “secretly” (v. 7). In the Middle East and all societies in which honor is the core value, privacy is a threat to honor. If honor is a public claim to worth along with a public acknowledgement of that worth, then people’s behavior must be ever on public display. Anyone who acts secretly has something to hide and is therefore automatically considered to be dishonorable, shameful. Herod’s secret inquiry immediately tags him as acting dishonorably.
The Magi listen to his request that they report to him what they find about this new king, but, astute Middle Easterners that they are, they refuse to enter into his shameful strategy. They return home by a different route (v. 12), thereby deceiving the shameful Herod (Matt 2:16).
When the Magi find Jesus, they pay homage. The high, honorable status of these visitors indicates the high degree of honor they pay to Jesus and his mother. They also offer three kinds of gifts (gold, myrrh, and frankincense), further enhancing the honor they bestow. Matthew has masterfully cast Jesus into an impressively honorable context that does not fail to catch the attention of his original Middle Eastern audience.
|artist He Qi|