those who hate peace.
I am for peace,
but when I speak,
they are for war. (1)
The Magi, come from afar, kneel in homage before the Child. St. Matthew’s gospel sees as the fulfillment of the “Star Prophecy": There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel to smite injustice. (2)
As Persians, they may well have a special interest in a powerful Jewish leader, for the Jews live right on the dividing line between the Persian and Roman spheres of influence. The Magi, of the Zoroastrian priestly caste, may hope such a leader will deliver the whole Eastern Mediterranean once again into Persia’s hegemony.
Jewish resistance groups before, during and after the time of Jesus found great hope in the Star Prophecy. Marginalized, increasingly frustrated with the Establishment. they expected a definite and dramatic movement of God to usher in an era of great peace on earth, most especially for those with whom God is well pleased (3) as the angels tell the shepherds. Some expected miraculous rescue.
And still we fight
Now, two thousand years later, Israel/Palestine sits uneasily on the same geo-political fault line between Persia and the West. A proxy war rages on its norther border in Syria between Saudi Arabia's Sunni Islam and Shi’ite Islam in Iran, modern day Persia. Iran has its eyes, once again, set on dominating the Middle East. The song of the angels goes unfulfilled still.
As all those resistance groups, including the early followers of Jesus found, the great Promise of the Kingdom, or just Rule of God, did not descend miraculously from heaven. Such disappointment as they endured at the failure of their hopes came, I believe, from a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of biblical prophetic vision.
The prophets seldom predict; they warn, they challenge. They foresee what will happen IF people do not change their ways. What if prophetic visions of great promise contain the same challenge: this is what can happen IF you change your ways. The great era of peace can come, the vision says, when you seek the things that make for peace. (4)
The visions do not come so much from “above" as from “below,” that is, out of the heart and very guts of human yearning—visions of what must be if the human enterprise is to succeed. They arise from the seed of god-likeness planted in us all, sparked into life by visionaries who see clearly what must happen for human good. They reveal targets for our striving.
Resource rather than Rescuer
In this context, God becomes Resource rather than Rescuer; "Emmanuel" to work with us and through us to follow the Star toward the goal: peace-making, which cannot happen without justice-making and the building of compassionate community. Conflict between mutually loathing persons and powers seems, tragically, an "easier" way for the humans species.
But the end of that road is death, especially with our current weapons of mass destruction, nuclear and biological. The prophetic vision of swords into plowshares (5)is the only feasible way forward for human survival. But the struggle uphill is hard, very hard. For us, and even, apparently, for God.
Next: God’s Uphill Struggle with Humanity (Part 2)
2) Numbers 24:17
3) Luke 2:14
4) Luke 19:42
5) Isaiah 2:4