A Bible study of St. Matthew for the youth - Mathew Chapter 2
- A Bible study of St. Matthew for the youth - Mathew Chapter 2
The second chapter of Matthew gives the narrative of the birth of
Christ. This chapter combined with the second chapter of Luke
provides us an idea of the circumstances surrounding the first
Christmas. Where Luke focuses on the visit of the shepherds,
Matthew focuses on the wise men. In using these two writings, we
get a glimpse of how the birth of our Savior occurred.
Matthew begins by narrating the visit of the wise men or Magi. Who
were these men? In his commentary on Matthew, Father
Kaniyamparmabil describes the Magi by quoting historians of the
past. Philo of Alexandria writes, "The Persian Magi were esteemed
as honorable and virtuous sages. Skilled in philosophy, medicine and
natural science, they became the scholars of Persian society". They
were considered to be in the elite class, well-established and well-
known for their religious duties within the Persian Empire. One of
their expertises is astronomy. As the Malpan writes in his
commentary, "they believed, like most people in antiquity, that
Heaven communicated its desires and intentions through signs,
comets, stars and astronomical phenomena. Indeed, a person's destiny
was considered determined by the stars under which one was born."
This would explain why they came in search of the Jewish King by
following a star. As said in verse 2, the Magi followed the star in
the east in search of the king whom they desired to worship.
The verses that follow give the reader an impression of King
Herod, the ruler of Judea. The king reacts in fear when he heard
the question of the wise men, "where is the one who has been born
king of the Jews?" (v. 2). The integrity of these men is evident
because Herod and all of Jerusalem are immediately disturbed when
they hear that another king is born. Herod's character up to this
point is only a continuation of his brutal past. His appointment as
governor was resented by most Jews since his mother was an Arab, and
therefore he was not a Jew. But he tried to build his reputation
through public projects. "In Jerusalem, the king built a new
market, an amphitheater, a theater, a new building where the
Sanhedrin could convene, a new royal palace, and last but not least,
in 20 BC he started to rebuild the Temple". When his throne was
challenged, he went to the extent of killing his brother-in-law and
even his own sons. By knowing Herod's past, one gets an idea of why
Jerusalem, too, was disturbed by the visit of the Magi (v. 3). They
either did not want to lose the king who had been generous to them,
or they feared that their king would begin another rampage. But one
thing is obvious; the news of the birth of Christ disturbed many.
The chapter then proceeds into the whereabouts of this birth. Herod
calls together the chief priest and teachers (v. 4) who eventually
conclude that the birth will be in Bethlehem based upon a prophecy
made in Micah 5:2. As many of us can attest to, the book of Micah
is rarely read and spoken of. But these chief priests and teachers
knew the Old Testament so well that they discovered the birthplace
from this minor book. Malpan Kaniyamparmabil writes that the chief
priests were writers and scholars and also the guardians of the
Law. "The more highly esteemed the Law became in the eyes of the
people, the more its study and interpretation became a lifework
by itself, and thus there developed a class of scholars who, though
not priests, devoted themselves assiduously to the Law".
Furthermore, the process of becoming a scribe was not easy. "To
become a scribe one has to be trained under a scribe for four years.
When he turns 30, other scribes would examine him. They would lay
their hands over to give the scribe-hood. Then they would be given a
writing plank and a key (Luke 11:52). The key was the symbol of
authority to revel the mystery of the Law". Therefore, being
professionals of the Laws and Scripture, it is no small wonder that
they were able to find the exact place of the Messiah's birth.
The wise men then proceed to find the baby at a house (v.11),
showing that Joseph probably found a more suitable place for
his family by this time. These highly esteemed men bow down before
the baby and worship Him. They then present Him with gifts. It is
a tradition of old that one must visit a king with gifts as seen,
for instance, in the story of the queen of Sheba visiting
Solomon "with a very great caravan" of gifts (1 Kings 10:2). It
must be noted that each of these presents is symbolic of the
Messiah. The gold points to His kingship, for kings are adorned
with gold, while the frankincense points to His divinity. Our
Syriac hymns speak of our prayers rising to God like the smoke of
incense offered on the censer. And finally "myrrh was used to apply
to a dead body, signifying His humanity and suffering". With these
three gifts, God symbolically professes and reminds us of His
qualities and purpose of His Son's incarnation.
The last portion of this chapter narrates dangers that the
baby faces and how God's angel brings Him protection. The family
escapes to Egypt to avoid Herod's persecution and then settles in
Nazareth after Herod's death. The details of Herod's death show the
consequences for those who work against God. Experts believe
that "an infection in Herod's abdomen could have spread to his groin
and rectal areas (Herod is said to have complained of abdominal
pain). Records also indicate the swelling at the leader's groin was
further wracked by an infestation of worms, and there were maggots
feeding on the tissue." It must be noted here that even though
Herod worked against God and tried to destroy the Messiah, God
nevertheless worked through him to help the wise men. But
ultimately Herod met the consequences of his actions.
The second chapter of Matthew holds many lessons. The birth
of Christ is the greatest gift of Christmas. Exchanging of gifts is
a tradition that began with the first Christmas in Bethlehem, and we
are called to continue this tradition not just between ourselves but
with God also. Nowadays we hear of the gift of God offered to us
through His Incarnation. But we forget that we must also present a
gift to Him in return. If He is our king, we can only approach Him
with gifts, like the wise men. In another words, as God gave us His
life, we must return the gift by giving our life to Him. This is
why Jesus says, "Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it"
How are we to give our lives to Him? This entails the necessity of
change. Matthew presents to us three different reactions to God's
birth dealing with this change. King Herod reacts with fear. He is
afraid that this baby would take His throne. He did not want to
give up power or make changes in his life. It is ironic that Jesus
later proclaims that he did not come to become king of this world;
for he tells Pilate, "`my kingdom is not of this world'" (John
18:36). Nevertheless, Herod wants to destroy the child because he
fears the changes that this birth would bring. So he is reluctant
The chief priests, on the other hand, react with no reaction at
all. As mentioned earlier, they knew Scripture so well that they
discovered the Messiah's birthplace. But their indifference is
shown in that they do not follow the wise men to see the Messiah.
As the saying goes, it's not what you know that matters but what you
do with it. They knew and studied Scripture, but they missed the
point. They have a reaction of not caring. Essentially, no change
The wise men are indeed wise in that they react to God's birth with
change. They traveled hundreds of miles across the desert to find
Jesus and then they worship Him and present Him with gifts. One may
wonder what came of these men. Malpan Kaniyamparmabil writes, "It
is also said that St. Thomas met theses Magi in Persia when he was
preaching the Gospel and he baptized them. Further they helped the
saint in spreading the Gospel." How great and awesome is our God!
He rewards those that seek Him and react to His birth with change.
Like the wise men, we are called to move in a different direction
than we initially came after encountering God. In other words, if
Christ is born within us, we are changed; for we can not be like
Herod or the high priests. St. Paul writes that we must become
a "new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17). Changes need to take place
in our lives. Habits that hold us back from God must be removed.
We must replace it with habits that draw us closer to Him, such as
daily prayer, confession, taking the Eucharist, etc. In fact, out
of the seven sacraments in our church, two should be constantly
repeated. We should regularly confess in front of a priest and then
take God's body and blood to renew ourselves. This is where the
gift of God exchanges with our gift. As God gave us the gift of
forgiveness through His death and resurrection, we must return the
gift with a change of heart towards God. As we daily recite from
Psalms 51, "a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not
despise" (v. 17). The purpose behind observing the Laws is to draw
our hearts closer to Him. As we pray daily, observe our Lents,
attend the Mass, etc., it would all be futile if our heart is not
changed. We cannot be like King Herod or the chief priests. May
the birth of Christ lead us to be "born again" (John 3:7) with a new
heart towards Him. With Christ, there is change.
By George Aramath
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