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The Cowardly Wise Men: A Reflection for Epiphany and the Holy Innocents

The Cowardly Wise Men: A Reflection for Epiphany and the Holy Innocents December 28, 2014

Creative Commons Copyright Shyn Darkly (Flickr)
Creative Commons Copyright Shyn Darkly (Flickr)

When the Magi chose to deceive Herod, return home a different a way, and save the child Jesus, they unwittingly doomed countless children to slaughter and countless more parents to lives of eternal grief.

Their choice may have saved the One but it killed scores.

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the Magi, he flew into a fit of rage, and he ordered all children in and around Bethlehem to be slaughtered who were two years old or under, according to the time he had learned from the Magi. 

The Magi had offered Herod just enough information to make the ruler dangerous and to earn them a free pass through a foreign land. In doing so, they had become unwitting accomplices.

The warning signs, though, should have been clear to any wise man.

Herod’s fear.

His secret meeting with them.

His exacting questions about the star’s timing.

The ludicrous suggestion that the ruler would pay homage to his infant usurper.

Then, after locating Jesus, a dream had warned them about Herod.

They had thought they were clever, going home by a different route and avoiding danger.

Maybe they had thought they had been transformed by their journey to Jesus.

Perhaps they had even felt like they had experienced an epiphany of sorts in meeting the great light shining in the child.

But really they were simple cowards who had colluded with a tyrant rather than to stand up to him when given a chance, who had chosen to skulk away rather than speak truth to the powers that be, who had offered information enough to make Jesus and anyone his age a target for the machinations of power and death.

In the end, the Magi had chosen to save only themselves.

So it frequently is with the wealthy and privileged few who see injustice and a gathering storm of violence against the innocent and chose to return home another way where they won’t have to bear witness to the bloodshed, the deprivation, the weeping.

Where they won’t have to listen to the voice in Ramah, the wailing and loud lamentation of Rachel who wept for her children and refused to be comforted because they were no more.

In the end, the Magi returned to a life of comfort and luxury, content that they had seen something important and had been a small part of history.

They had seen a great light, been in its presence. But they simply couldn’t see the long shadow they had cast while standing in it.


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