Monday, January 13, 2014

Herod and the Wise Men: Two Possible Responses to Jesus

I know it is past Christmas but in the spirit of keeping Christmas in mind throughout the year I will still reflect on the Christmas narratives from time to time. Moving beyond the facts and flow of the narrative of Herod and the wise men (Matt. 2:1-12) it is possible to ask what the narrative was intended to do or accomplish. Few, if any, passages in Scripture are included simply to give information for the intellectually or historically curious. Most biblical narratives demand some kind of response and the story of Herod and the wise men is no different. Matthew seems to intentionally contrast two responses to Jesus’s birth. On the one hand Herod, with the (perhaps unwitting) aid of the Jewish religious leaders rejected God’s appointed king while, on the other hand, Gentiles with little knowledge of the true God recognized God’s king and responded with submission, allegiance, and worship. The narrative pushes us, its readers, to consider our response to Jesus. Whom are you acting like? Whom are you identifying with; Herod or the wise men?

Benczúr Adoration of the three Kings 1911

Take care not to answer too quickly. Herod would have self-identified as a religiously observant Jew. He consistently presented himself this way and viewed his project to rebuild the temple as a powerful example of his commitment to Israel’s God. His guilt, however, is intensified in the narrative by his use of Scripture to locate the child. This act confirmed his knowledge that he was setting himself against God and God’s purposes in order to maintain his own rule and dynasty. His knowledge of God and Scripture did not lead him to submission and worship; instead he prized self-preservation and self-rule beyond anything else. He would not bow to the authority of a different Judean king whether this king had God’s approval or not. Instead of worship and submission, Herod opposed Jesus and God’s plan.

Herod powerfully illustrates the fact that it is not enough to outwardly identify with God’s people. It is not enough to sacrificially give of your funds and energy to build God’s house/temple and to help others worship. It is not enough to learn about God and his plan through his Scriptures. Every one of us is confronted daily with a choice of our will: Whom will we serve? Whom will we live for? This is not the kind of decision that can be made once ( i.e.: “I gave my life to God when I was a child”) or that can be determined by past performance (i.e.: “I have gone to church every Sunday for twenty years and regularly give money to the church.”); it is the kind of decision that must be re-made each day and is more (but not less) than outward actions. Whom are you living for today?

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