The Other Wise Man

Isaiah 63:7-9

Matthew 2:13-23

 

So Jesus is born. And three well-to-do Magi have come to see him and present him with valuable gifts. Magi by the way were the Mideast version of druids: they were a group of scholars and healers looking for the coming of God.  In a dream our three Magi: Melchior, Balthazar, and Caspar are ordered to not to report to Herod, but go home by another route.

But did you know there was another Magi, Artaban? You may have heard of him in Henry van Dyke’s book or even on a TV show produced years ago. Like the other three, Artaban was waiting for a great savior to be born who would be the Truth sent by God. And like them he lived in one of the empires east of Jerusalem. And like them he observed what we were come to call, the Star of Bethlehem. Now was the time to go to the new born savior. He sold all that he had and purchased a sapphire, a ruby, and a pearl to give to the new born King.

He knew the three famous ones and they had all agreed to meet at the Temple of Babylon and then proceed to Jerusalem. The three had agreed to wait for him for only 10 days after the sighting. If he did not come, they would leave without him.

So as soon as Artaban sighted the star in saddled up and took off towards the west to the Temple of Babylon.

But on the 10th day, when he was only a few hours from the Temple, he came upon a man lying on the desert road. He was alive, but very ill. What was Artaban to do? If he stopped to help, he would miss his friends. What was more important: to help a single man or to offer help to the Savior of all people? Would not offering to the Savior be more important? If he stopped he could save only one. If he went on he may save millions.

But he stopped … something deep inside him cried out that that one lone man needed help. And that one lone man was a child of God.  So the for the next several hours he nursed the man, giving him water with a healing potion. Soon the man had recovered his strength. He asked after Artaban and Artaban explained his mission to find the Messiah.

He said that he had nothing by which he could repay Artaban. But he did offer advice: That his Hebrew prophets had prophesied a Messiah. And that the Messiah would not be born in Jerusalem but in Bethlehem.

Artaban rushed to the Temple hoping his friends tarried for him. But when he got there, they were gone. They left a message saying they could wait no longer, but he was to follow them. How would he follow them through the searing desert. He could not ride his exhausted horse across the desert. He would need a camel to do that – and a lot of supplies and water. But he had no money to buy a camel and his needed supplies.

But he did have the treasure he was going to give to the Messiah. If he did not get a camel and supplies, what good is the treasure? So he sold his precious sapphire and bought a camel and the supplies. He set out across the desolate desert hoping to catch up with his friends.

After many long weeks, he finally arrived in Bethlehem, hoping that this is where his friends came to find the Messiah. He searched the town and finally came to one poor cottage with an open door. Inside was a young room nursing her baby.

Standing at the door, he asks if she had seen three Magi in all of their finery and had she seen Mary and Joseph with a new born baby. She says yes she had seem the Magi but they had suddenly left and disappeared. She knew Mary and Joseph and reported that they had fled to Egypt to escape something or someone. She didn’t understand why they fled and why the Magi disappeared.

Then they were interrupted by yelling and screaming, and the clanging of swords and armor. A voice cried, “The soldiers of Herod are killing our children!” The woman moved into the shadows of her house with her baby, trying to hide. Artaban turned towards the outside.

What was he to do? Flee before he is caught by the solders? A stranger would be suspect. He didn’t know what was going on, but in any confusion like this, the soldiers are likely to pick him up for good measure. And Herod was noted for his unsympathetic nature.

A soldier approached the door with a determined look on his face, his sword drawn. Artaban stood in the door, large enough that the soldier could not see into the home. He glared at the soldier, and quietly pulled out a ruby, saying to the soldier, “there are no children here.” The soldier took the ruby and turned away from the house shouting that there were no children in the house. At least one innocent baby survived the slaughter of the innocents.

Now Artaban had sacrificed two of his gifts for the Messiah. And he had only the faintest idea as to where to go. His friends were heading home having given their sacrifices to the Messiah. The Messiah had fled the slaughter and was heading into the vastness of Egypt.

But Artaban was determined to find the Messiah. He headed for Egypt.  And for the next 33 years he searched Egypt for the Messiah. But though he didn’t find Jesus, he found many to help. Through those decades he fed the hungry and bought clothes for the naked. He cared for the sick and visited those in prison. And all along he carried his final treasure, the pearl, with him hoping he would find the Messiah.

Then one day he meant a man riding with a caravan that had been in Judea. The man was excited. He had heard a great prophet in Jerusalem, that some called the Son of God.  He was teaching and living a new way of living: of caring for the needy and respect for everyone, not just the rulers and the rich. He was challenging the powers to let go of their privileges and become good shepherds of their people.

The man then lowered his voice: he reported many took this prophet quite seriously and were living as he had taught them. Others, though were threatened by him and were plotting his death.

Artaban realized that this was the Messiah. He must go to Jerusalem at last.

When he arrived in Jerusalem, it was the Passover holiday. The town was mobbed. But the shouting crowd had a direction, a flow heading somewhere and it was not the Temple behind them.

Artaban asked what all the uproar was about. He learned that two notorious thieves were being crucified and between them one that claimed to be the Son of God.

Artaban now anxious thought maybe this was the meaning of his wandering life. It was his destiny to buy the freedom of the Messiah with his pearl. He pushed and shoved his way through the crowd racing to Golgotha.

But then he was stopped by a troop of soldiers blocking the road. They were dragging a young woman into the street. She cried out to Artaban. “Have pity on me! My father died owing debts and now I am to be sold into slavery to pay them. Spare me a living death.”

Again Artaban was confronted with a choice. At last he has found the Messiah and he can save him!  Is he not more important than this poor, penniless woman? Would it not be a sin to sacrifice God’s messenger for a woman?

Then he looked into the woman’s eyes and bought her freedom with the Messiah’s pearl. As the young woman stood beside him, he heard the cry of the dying Messiah and shuddered at the mistake he had made. Because he had succumbed to the woman’s plight, the Messiah died.

But then a great earthquake rumbled through the town and beside him a wall crumbled and fell upon him. The woman ran to him and tried to revive for him. But he was too injured to survive. As he laid dying, he prayed for forgiveness for not having brought the Messiah his treasure and not having rescued him.

Then on the edge of death, he heard: “You have been a good and faithful servant. I was hungry and you fed me. I was naked and you clothed me. I was in prison and you visited me. I was ill and you cared for me. I was going to be murdered and you rescued me. I was enslaved and you freed me.”

But Artaban whispered, “Not so, Lord. When did I do these things for you?”

And Jesus replied, “Whenever you cared for the least, you cared for me.”

Think about it …

God’s grace and love be with you …

Amen.