Years ago just before Christmas, I took some mail to the post office in Scottsdale, Arizona. In those days Scottsdale was very upscale, and no African Americans lived there. In the long line was a mother and a young boy, perhaps 4 years old. In the line next to him was a tall, dignified Black man with a lovely beard. No doubt he was the first person of color the little boy had ever seen, and he called out in his piercing little boy voice: “Look, look, Mommy,” pointing to the man. Everyone held their breath — what would his next words be? To our relief and joy we heard him proclaim: “Look, Mommy, It’s the third wise man!” We hear about the wise men in today’s Gospel. We don’t know who the “magi” or wise men were, how many there were, or if they are “real” historical figures. That the third wise man was dark skinned is an old tradition, is not in Scripture. But Matthew uses this story to present the meaning of Jesus’ life to his Gospel readers. The foreigners from the East introduce the Jesus who will proclaim salvation for all people of the world, not only for the Jews. The struggle of the magi to evade Herod introduces the Jesus who will confront evil and devils and death itself but not be defeated. Tradition interpreted the gifts they offered as representing Jesus’ royalty as descendent of King David (gold), his divinity (Frankincense) and his Passion (myrrh). Thus the wise men are meant to help us imagine and understand the Gospel story. The little boy did that, perhaps in a way St. Matthew never expected! Who are the magi in our midst, whom we need to see with fresh eyes rather than the way society might see them, and who are leading us to the light?
— Blog entry by Sister Mary Garascia
Artwork: The Adoration of the Magi, about 1480–90, Georges Trubert. Tempera colors, gold leaf, gold and silver paint, and ink on parchment, 4 1/2 × 3 3/8 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 48 (93.ML.6), fol. 59. Digital image courtesy of Getty’s Open Content Program