Matthew 2:1-12: Magi

2:1 After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, suddenly some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east

2:2  asking, 'Where is the infant king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.'

2:3  When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem.

2:4  He called together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

2:5  They told him, ‘At Bethlehem in Judaea, for this is what the prophet wrote:

2:6  “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, you are by no means the least among the leaders of Judah, for from you will come a leader who will shepherd my people Israel.”’

2:7  Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared

2:8   and sent them on to Bethlehem with the words, 'Go and find out all about the child, and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.'

2:9  Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And suddenly the star they had seen rising went forward and halted over the place where the child was.

2:10 The sight of the star filled them with delight,

2:11 and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.

2:12  But they were given a warning in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.


In the foregoing story we heard how Jesus had been born in a totally new way: by the Holy Spirit out of a virgin. Now wise men from a foreign country come to adore him.


Probably Matthew is referring to a prophecy of Isaiah (60:3-6): ‘The nations will come to your light and kings to your dawning brightness; [-] the wealth of the nations come to you;  camels in throngs will fill your streets, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; everyone in Saba will come, bringing gold and incense and proclaiming Yahweh's praises.’ But Isaiah talks about ‘kings’, Matthew about ‘wise men’ (‘magi’).

The wise men are asking after the infant king, the king of royal descent. King Herod was a self-made king thanks to his violence and his money. He understands immediately that the wise men are talking about the Messiah, the Christ. But this self-made king doesn’t even know where it is written about him in the Holy Books. He was ‘perturbed’. Astonishing. The people of Israel were awaiting for the Messiah for hundreds of years but at the moment he seemed to appear they didn’t want him.

The stories of Jesus’ childhood have the function of an overture; they pronounce the themes which will play an important role in the life of the adult Jesus. In this case: Jesus’ own people didn’t want him; it was the foreigners who came to adore him.

Picture Meditation

Just as Matthew, the artist prefers ‘wise men’ above ‘kings’. Matthew is talking about ‘the house’ where the royal child was to be found. The painter gives ‘the house’ the character of a flowering paradise, in which those who are connected with the child are wrapped. Mother Mary is feeding the baby. Joseph stands behind them.

Does my belief in Jesus change my world into a paradise?

The three wise men are touched by seeing the little baby. They offer him their gifts.

Looking at these three men: is there one with whom I can identify myself.

If I had been in their situation, which gift should I have wanted to give?

What do I have to offer?

Inside the paradise the colours are bright. Outside they are darker. Above in the left corner the wise men are on their way, guided by the star. Was there ever a ”star” in my life which guided me? Above in the right corner a very little Herod is overlooking the scene. What does that mean? Below in the left corner the wise men are warned by an angel not to return to king Herod. Was there ever a dream in my life which I consider(ed) as a sign of the Lord?

In the right corner the wise men are on their way back, taking another way. Could this be an image of their being changed by meeting the child. Was there ever in my life a moment that I chose to take ‘another way’?

At the end I have a talk with - why not? - Herod; with the wise men, or with one of them; with Joseph; with Mary; with the little Jesus.