When tradition makes it hard to hear scripture

The Gospel lesson for Epiphany Sunday is one that has more extra-scriptural tradition than usual. The story is actually pretty sparse.

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6’And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'” 7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

So, looking at the text itself, answer the following questions.

1. How many “wise men” visited Herod and the Christ child?
2. What were their names?
3. What country did they come from?
4. What did they find in Bethlehem?
5. Who did they find in the stable?
6. How old was the Christ child?

Yes, trick questions all.

1. There is no indication of how many “magi” there were. There were three gifts, so many assume three “wise men”, but the text does not tell us.
2. Tradition holds that their names were Melchior, Gaspar (or Caspar), and Balthasar, but again the text does not say.
3. We don’t know where they were from, except from the East.
4. We don’t really know if they made it to Bethlehem. They were sent there, but the star led them to the place where the child was.
5. They entered a house. According to the text, the Holy Family was no longer in a stable!
6. Again, no clue from the text. Herod later orders the death of all the children in Bethlehem under the age of 2 (or those who are young enough to still be nursing).

It makes you want to rethink the manger scene, doesn’t it?

Pondering Pastor

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