Which way to Jesus?
Once upon a time in a winter season, it happened that the three palm fruit farmers were warming themselves by the fireside. Soon two of them were engaged in a heated debate comparing their religions to decide which one was the true religion. Thomas, the oldest among them, sat quietly listening to the debate. Suddenly the two turned to him and asked, " Decide for us, Thomas. Which religion is the right one?" Thomas rubbed his white beards and said thoughtfully, " Well, you know there are three ways to get from here to the oil mill. You can go around the hill on the right side over the hill. That is the shorter but it is a steep climb. You can go around the hill on the right side. That is not too far, but the road is rough and full of potholes. Or you can go around the hill on the left side. That is the longest way, but it is also the easiest." He paused and then added, " But you know, when you get there, the mill man doesn't ask you how you came. All he asks is, ' Man, how good is your fruit?'
In the stories of Jesus' birth, two special groups of people came to visit the new-born babe: the shepherds and the magi. The church has no special feast to commemorate the visit of the shepherds but we have this special feast of Epiphany today to celebrate the visit of the magi. Why that? It is because the visit of the magi is eye-opener. The shepherds learnt of the birth of Jesus through a direct revelation from angels appearing in the midnight sky. This is direct super natural revelation. The magi, on the other hand, learnt of the birth of Jesus by observing a star. The star did not say anything to them. They had to interpret this natural sign of the star to know what it meant and where it led. If we remember that the magi or the three wise men were nature worshipers, people who divined God's will by reading the movements of the stars and other heavenly bodies, then we can see how the visit of the magi challenges some of our popular beliefs.
Like the palm fruit farmers, religious people of all persuasions tend to think that their religious tradition is the only way to God. This is what some of us hear when we hear such words of Jesus as : " I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me"( John 14:6). Thus with this scriptural quote above we hastily conclude that the way of God equal the way of our religious tradition. Yet the word of God cautions us against such narrow interpretation. " For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways are not my ways says the Lord"( Isaiah 55:8). That is why we are fascinated with the story of the visit of the magi. It is a unique story that opens our eyes to the fact that God is not limited to any one religious tradition.
We learn from the gospel how people of different religious traditions came to know that the Son of God was born. The shepherds who were regarded as unclean and could not take part in Temple worship without undergoing purification came to know through a direct vision of angels. The magi knew through a reading of the stars. And King Herod's scribes came to know through searching the scriptures. Visions, stars, scriptures- different ways of arriving at the same truth. Of course this does not mean that any religious tradition is just as good as the other. Notice how Matthew indicates that when the guiding star got to Jerusalem its light failed and the magi had to consult the scriptures to direct them to Bethlehem. Over and above the natural light of the star the magi still needed the supernatural light of scripture to finally get to Jesus.
Yet the crucial question in the story remains: Who actually got to find Jesus? Herod and his scribes who had the scriptures failed to find Him, but the magi who followed the natural light of the stars were able to find Him. Why? Because the Jewish authorities, even though they possessed the shining truth of revealed scriptures, did not follow it. They did not walk in the light of the scriptures. The magi on the other hand, who enjoyed only a star light followed its guidance. It is not the possession of the truth that matters, it is how prepared we are to walk in the light of the truth that we possess. It is better to have the dim light of the stars and follow it than to have the bright light of the holy scriptures and neglect it.
We Christians believe that our religion possesses the fullness of truth. But what does that benefit us if we do not walk in the truth. Nature worshippers or non-believers who are sincerely committed to following the dim light of natural reason may arrive at Jesus before Christians who have the exalted truths revealed by God but who do not walk the walk of faith. This is the very challenging truth we celebrate today in the story of the pagan wise men who seek and find the Lord.
Epiphany is ongoing. The magi were led by the star to the house where they saw the Child and did Him homage. But did not end there. They left the place, and went back to their own country and themselves became guiding stars for others so that they too will get to know and respond to the story about a God who got involved in our world. And the story goes on, told and re-told in this our present day and age. Are you part of this story? or are you just a passive listener and bystander? Wanted: Men and women of goodwill who make the WORD known again and again, disciples who are willing to " cross over" to tell the world of His love. Yes, witnesses of the WORD, to the world.
The magi encountered the child, and they went back to their country by another way. It is my special prayer that our leaders really encounter God, and change their ways. They did not report back to King Herod. Praying that we turn our backs on our " King Herods" and follow Christ our King instead. Think about it: The kings and queens whom you serve in this life- are they worth working for? Are they worth dying for?