Pondicherry Archdiocese

The Strangers’ Pilgrimage

The New Year this time begins almost with the appearance of the Star of Bethlehem. Matthew narrates that the Magi from the East, observing “his star,” went to pay homage to the newborn Child Jesus in Bethlehem (Mt 2:1-2).The word Magi comes from the Greek word ‘magos’ which has a Persian root: ‘Magupati,’ meaning, astrologers; likely, they are wise men. They observed a star which, according to their knowledge, is a special one indicating the birth of the king of Israel. Matthew wants to present to us various significant evangelical messages through these Magi, heralded by the ‘star’ of Jesus leading them to Bethlehem.


His Star at its Rising

The Magi who proceeded from the eastern neighbourhood countries, probably from the Arabian territories, were astrologers. Only later Christian tradition designates the Magi as kings (Cf. Isa 60:3), three in number, corresponding to the three gifts, and assign them names with personal characteristics. The fact that they, in the rising of a special star, recognized the Jewish messianic expectation, shows that they had some earlier contact with Jewish thinking. In the rising of a new star, as astrologers, the Magi astrologers perceived the sign of the fulfilment of the Jewish eschatological expectation concerning the coming king and so would have set off on their journey towards Jerusalem. That was the reason they told Herod that they saw “his star rising in the east.”


Magi the Strangers!

Magi from the east are not, as some propose, Jewish settlers who knew of God’s messianic promises; they were non-Israelites, strangers and according to the Jewish religious/social traditions, sinners. In their encounter with Herod, they did not mention the birth of the Messiah, but the “king of the Jews.” Matthew was keen to present Jesus as the Davidic descendant; however, he wanted to underscore the birth of Jesus with an inclusive messianic role. So, he brings the Magi, the strangers, into the fold of Jesus. At this moment we can note Luke’s inclusion in his birth-narrative: Child Jesus is not only the glory to the people of Israel but also the ‘revelation’ to the Gentiles (Lk 2:32). Magi are the first people, after Mary and Joseph, to whom Jesus appeared. Jesus manifested Himself first to the Gentiles and strangers as the king of the Jews (we must understand the term king here in the context of Jn 18:33-38). Indeed, Jesus took into his fold the Gentiles, like the Canaanite woman, the Roman Centurion, Matthew the sinner and publicans.

In him, there is no social, community, language or colour barriers. Through the story of Magi Matthew proposes the mission of Jesus: “I have come to call not the righteous but sinners” (Mt 9:13). What Paul said in fifties that ‘in Christ Jesus there is no Jew or Greek..’ (Gal 3:28) Jesus manifested the same at his birth. However, the fact, all over the world, is different; human weakness seems to prevail over our Christian commitment.


Magi the Pilgrims!

Having recognized Jesus’ star in their country, the Magi set out, not on a journey to Jerusalem, but on a pilgrimage to Bethlehem. They understood that the child was to be the ‘king of the Jews’ but it was God’s design that they were led to pay homage to the Messiah-child; this is clear from the type of offerings they brought: Gold-His Kingship, Frankincense-His Divinity, and Myrrh-His Suffering. Their journey was, indeed, a spiritual pilgrimage, like that of Abram of Mesopotamia to Canaan, just obeying the direction of the star which symbolizes the angelic companion, Raphael, to Tobiah (Tobit 5). Every pilgrimage is with expectation, but full of anxieties and setbacks.

 Pope Benedict XVI underlines that pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself, where his grace has shone with particular splendour” (6.11.2010). Their journey was not without any setbacks. As they reached Jerusalem, they met a wrong person King Herod and enquired about the birth of another king; this infuriated Herod and hence he sought to kill Child Jesus. However, led by the same star again, they could arrive at their destination. With much humility, uncertainty, insecurity, and vulnerability they accompanied God’s direction (star) and were able to achieve their goal. Life is a pilgrimage to attain the full vision of God (1 Cor 12:13). God’s Word, today, is ‘his star’ that leads us even in the darkness of evil, anxieties, contradictions, and confusions.


Pilgrimage Rewarded!

The Magi offered their gifts to Child Jesus and they did not return empty-handed. Indeed, as a result of their pilgrimage they could have the joy of meeting with the Holy Family; but they were also rewarded by Jesus’ manifestation (Darshan). The darshan they received changed their heart. They were affected and influenced by the divine mercy of Jesus; hence they could avoid the dangers of Herod and the manipulations of the political authority, and so took ‘another path’ (a total transformation and conversion), a gift of God and returned as missionaries of Jesus the Saviour. When we cooperate with Jesus’ way of life (his star), though it is a narrow path (Mt 7:14), God’s providence will accompany us to reach our Commonwealth (Phil 3:20).