The “three wise men,” or Magi — part 2

Persian astrologers in Matthew 2:1-2

Magi, whom some translations call “wise men,” were noted astrologers and dream interpreters. They served the king of Persia, but here come on a special diplomatic mission to honor another king. Many people in the Roman empire respected the esoteric eastern wisdom attributed to the Magi, but some applied the term to magicians, who were not respected.

Greek translations of the Old Testament spoke of the Magi as Daniel’s enemies, so the first time that Matthew’s audience heard the story, they might expect these Magi to be hostile. Sometimes we have unfair prejudices about groups of people who do not share our faith; fortunately, God loves and often reaches out to people we do not trust. As the parable of the sower teaches us, we should sow widely, because we cannot predict what ground will bear fruit.

Moreover, Scripture condemned divination, including astrology, as worthy of death. Yet in announcing his Son’s birth, God chose to speak to these Magi where they were looking. (Some scholars suggest that among celestial phenomena that could have gotten their attention was a planet that symbolized kingship aligning with a symbol for Judea.) When God has touched people, however imperfect their knowledge, we should work with them rather than pushing them away. Matthew’s Gospel closes with a mission to all peoples, and one of his first examples after the four women in the genealogy is these Magi.