The Judeo-Christian Scriptures invite us into the human struggle for truth.
The magi have nothing to protect. They are willing to leave all behind, journey to an unknown place and give away precious treasures all in the interest of knowing the truth, Queen writes.
They reflect the journeys and struggles of faith communities. Therefore, we should expect to find in our Scriptures contradictions, paradoxes, conflicts and inconsistencies.
When we struggle with the sacred text, we struggle with God, and that provides us with an opportunity to grow up, to evolve in spiritual consciousness.
By contrast, creeds and proposition statements of doctrine offer single-sentence answers that end the questioning and hence, the thinking, searching and struggling with questions of faith. This can lead people to avoid real growth and transformation.
In Matthew 2:1-12, the chief priests and teachers of the law offer King Herod a quick answer. They quote the creed, they quote Scripture, but they do not know nor do they care to know the truth.
The magi in this text are truth-seekers. They are not of the Jewish tradition nor are they interested in converting to Judaism, but they are drawn to a strange land among a strange people by a star.
The star is a symbol for what is true and real. They are willing to pursue the truth wherever the truth is to be found, and they are ready to embrace the truth whatever the truth might be.
It is important to note where the star did not lead them. It did not lead them to the temple, which had become a place of exclusion, marked by self-righteous pride and one-upmanship.
There were holiness boundaries clearly marked and strictly enforced. Women and Gentiles were relegated to the outer boundaries while the sick and impure were completely excluded from the precincts.
Instead, the star led the magi to a place of poverty and humility, where they were warmly welcomed and their gifts gratefully received.
The chief priests and teachers of the law are leaders who wield religious power with more important things to do than to go wandering off on a spiritual quest for truth.
They are the guardians of the status quo, boundary keepers who have a lot of ego to protect. They quote Scripture and offer a quick answer to maintain the power structure and pecking order.
By contrast, the magi have nothing to protect. They are willing to leave all behind, journey to an unknown place and give away precious treasures all in the interest of knowing the truth.
The pursuit of truth leads us into a struggle with our sacred Scriptures. In many ways, the Bible mirrors our own spiritual struggles – our advances and setbacks.
The Jewish leaders danced to the tune of the dominant power exhibited by King Herod and did not have the spiritual acumen to discern that they were moving backward rather than forward. This is when religion turns destructive and deadly.
The choice before us is whether we will settle for easy, quick answers that support the status quo and draw narrow lines defining who is in or out, or whether we will follow the star into previously unknown lands that welcome all humble seekers of truth.
If we approach our Scriptures like the magi, open and receptive to the Divine Spirit, then we can see in the Bible a general progression, an evolution of spiritual consciousness born of struggle. It is a movement from:
● Violence to nonviolence
● Manipulative, coercive power to relational, persuasive power
● Divine right of kings to servant leadership
● Exclusion to inclusion
● Patriarchy to egalitarianism
● Preoccupation with right doctrine and cultic ritual to the pursuit of inner humility and integrity
● Retribution and payback to forgiveness, reconciliation and redemptive justice
● Laws of purity enforced by religious power to the law of true liberty, the law of love written on minds and hearts of compassion
It is a slow process, which is why the parable of the mustard seed and the Gospel's "growth parables" give me hope. Hope for myself when I seem to keep making the same mistakes. Hope for the world when we seem to be moving in the wrong direction.
As Christians, for whom the Judeo-Christian Scriptures are central, the revelation of God's character reaches its pinnacle in the revelation that comes through Christ.
It takes us a long time to get there, but in Jesus we meet a completely nonviolent, compassionate God.
Of course, even after we arrive at Jesus, we still have the problem of living with that revelation.
There are regressions, like the kind we see in the book of Revelation where the nonviolent Jesus of Paul's letters and the Gospels is made into a violent, blood-shedding heavenly warrior.
As we struggle with our sacred Scriptures, the magi remind us that transformative truth can be found – though it's not likely to be found in short answers, Bible quotes and creedal definitions.
It requires a journey.
A journey that leads us into new places as we leave behind familiar surroundings to embark upon a humble, sincere quest for what is real, true and life-changing, and for the God who is more than we can ever think or imagine.
Chuck Queen is pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Frankfort, Ky. This column first appeared on his blog, A Fresh Perspective.