by Father Mike Stubbs
I have noticed that little babies often attract attention in church, even when they are not screaming their heads off.
People like to see their innocence, their cute faces smiling, to hear their gurgling. For parents, it may remind them of their own children when they were at that age.
For those who were never parents, the sight may fill a gap in their lives. In any case, newborn babies often attract attention.
In Matthew’s Gospel, which we hear this Sunday, Magi from the far-off East come to worship the newborn king of the Jews (2:1-12). The Magi are not Jews, but Gentiles.
Matthew’s Gospel is making the point that the newborn king will govern not only the Jewish people, but also all the nations of the earth. Matthew’s Gospel emphasizes the universality of Jesus’ mission. It is for all people.
The royal gifts that the Magi bring underline the kingly nature of the newborn child. They allude to the passage from the Book of Isaiah that we hear as the first reading of Sunday’s Mass: “All from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense” (60: 6b).
Since the same passage mentions kings coming to Jerusalem to worship, guided by God’s light — “Nations shall walk by your light and kings by your shining radiance” ((60:3) — the Magi who visit the newborn Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel are often also identified as kings, even though Matthew’s Gospel makes no such claim. It is content to identify them as Magi, and leave it at that.
It is significant that Jesus has been born in Bethlehem, the city of David. That is appropriate, since David was the greatest king of the Jews, up until then. It makes sense for the new king to be born there.
When King Herod hears the news that there is another king in town, this greatly upsets him. In response to this perceived threat to his power, Herod will order the slaughter of all the boys 2 years old or younger. The Holy Family will flee into Egypt to escape his cruelty.
From the very beginning of his life, then, the newborn king of the Jews poses a threat to the prevailing power structure.
Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus will oppose the religious and political authorities. This opposition will reach its climax when Jesus stands before Pilate, who will condemn him to death because he claims to be the king of the Jews.
This constant theme in Matthew’s Gospel challenges the disciples of Jesus to also take a stand. Will they acknowledge him as king, even when that brings them into conflict with worldly powers? Will they join with the Magi in worshiping him as Lord?