Practicing the Better: The Magi

​[Note: as we begin September, we move into the last third of the 2018 Oboedire theme, “Practicing the Better.”  If you have become an Oboedire traveler recently, you can go to the righthand sidebar of the home page, click on the “Practicing the Better” category, and read the previous posts that began last January.]


The visit of the Magi is the most earth-shattering insight about practicing the better prior to the ministry of John the Baptist.  It is the blunt revelation that people whom we would never expect to ask to see Jesus actually show up doing so (Matthew 2:2), and they exhibit a level of desire greater and more genuine than the in-house political and religious leaders had.

It is stunning to think that people “from the east” (Gentiles–likely astrologers, and considered pagans by the Jews) were more sensitive and responsive to what God was doing than those in Jerusalem–the religious establishment. The Magi were awed; Herod was angry.  The Magi came to lay precious gifts at the feet of Jesus; Herod kept his treasures laying at his own feet.  The Magi were peaceful; Herod was violent. The contrasts are stark and chilling.

The stunning revelation in the story of the Magi is that those who should have known the most about the birth of Jesus knew the least.  Those who claimed to be closest to God and looking for the coming of the messiah were the fartherest away.  Those who should have rejoiced responded with rage.  In the coming of the Magi, God exposed  the insider/outsider lie which always exists in pseudo spirituality, and broke down the dividing wall between people (Ephesians 2:14). God fulfilled Simeon’s prophesy that Jesus would be a light to the Gentiles, not just the Jews–that is, to everyone everywhere. (Luke 2:32).

We may never know the precise identity of the Magi, but their coming from the east likely means they were from somewhere in Asia–where religion was older than it was in Israel.  When we remember that John’s use of the Logos (1:1-18) connected to the western (Greco-Roman) world, and Jesus’reference to himself as “the Way” connected with the eastern world (Indo-Asian), we see the Bible telling us what we now sing, “in Christ now meet both east and west, in him meet south and north–one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.” [1]

With respect to practicing the better, the visit of the Magi warns us not to baracade ourselves in our “Jerusalems” (religious enclaves, communities, associations, theologies), and to be open to people and perspectives larger than our own, and different from ours.  In our day, for example, people from marginalized and oppressed groups–people who are called ‘nones’ and ‘dones’ –are coming “from the east” (outside our boundaries and barriers) with a spirituality more sensive and responsive to God than is sometimes present in those of us who are in the religious establshment. 

God continues to bring Magi (alleged “outsiders”) into our lives who say, “We’ve seen his star…and we’ve come to honor [worship] him” (Matthew 2:2). Practicing the better includes welcoming them, listening to them, and learning from what they have to say. Practing the better means recognizing they are our siblings in the human family, fellow seekers after God–and treating them so.

[1] Hymn, “In Christ There Is No East or West,” written by John Oxenham in 1913.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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