Sunday, 19 February 2017

More than that

GospelMatthew 5:38-48

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have learnt how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you: offer the wicked man no resistance. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.
  ‘You have learnt how it was said: You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; in this way you will be sons of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike. For if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not? And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do as much, do they not? You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.’

I often wonder where Jesus, and Christianity, got the 'meek and mild' reputation from.Whoever decided that the pastoral imagery, flowing robes, decorous manner and dewy eyes were an accurate depiction of the historical Jesus was either someone with a taste for romance or someone who realised how dangerous Jesus really was.

This idealised imagery proves that often we don't like the Jesus that the Gospel tells us about, because, let's be honest, Jesus is not always likeable; he does not give us the words we want to hear or the advice we want to take. 

How often when Jesus makes statements like these we prefer not to take them seriously. We think, sometimes we are encouraged to think, that it's all about metaphor; Jesus is just making a point - exaggerating for the sake of emphasis. That all he wants is for us to be good.

We know when we are being good; taking care of our own; making the best of our talents; taking part in our community. All very good attributes; but no more than we should be doing; no more than anyone else; no more than anyone who didn't know Jesus; no more than anyone who had not been awakened to God. What we call 'being good' is the desired human condition. 

Jesus doesn't want us to be good - he wants us to be better than that - his ambition for us goes beond all that - he wants us to be 'perfect' (a bad translation -  more likely meaning mature or adult). 

We should not need to be liked to like; we should not need to be loved to love; we should not need our own need to be fulfilled before we recognise that others have needs. 

In particular it should not matter who the others are because we know who we are - beloved children of God. 

It is this confidence in God's Love that Jesus tries to instill in us - the confidence that he has in his Father, that allows him to call, with joyful expectation, on the grace and healing that is then gifted to anyone who asks - all strangers; many enemies; pagans and Jews, honest and dishonest people alike. 

It's much harder for us, I feel like a hypocrite even writing this being, like Paul, very aware that I spend my life doing what I shouldn't and not doing what I should. We can't do this on our own and we are not meant to. Yet Jesus has faith in us and offers us the same channel to the grace that gives him confidence. 

Jesus gives us his own prayer of praise and reconciliation. If you can stand up, arms open wide, calling out not to Father but to Abba, Daddy, then you can stand up to the world. 

Whatever the world thinks it is doing to you; you cannot be pushed; ordered about; stolen from or exploited; you cannot be made 'less' because it just doesn't matter - you are loved. 

You are loved with a love that births love. Unselfish - it seeks to create peace and pardon where there is injury and hatred. In the words of St Francis - as prayed by Mother Teresa to the United Nations in 1985 - and needed, more than ever, today

Make us worthy Lord to serve our fellow men throughout the world,
who live and die in poverty and hunger.
Give them through our hands, this day, their daily bread
and by our understanding love give peace and joy.
Lord, make me a channel of thy peace.
That where there is hatred I may bring love,
That where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness,
That where there is discord, I may bring harmony,
That where there is error I may bring truth,
That where there is doubt I may bring faith,
That where there is despair I may bring hope,
That where there are shadows I may bring light,
That where there is sadness I may bring joy.
Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort that to be comforted,
To understand than to be understood,
To love than to be loved.
For it is by forgetting self that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven,
it is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.
Amen indeed.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

The simple life

Gospel Matthew 5:17-37

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them. I tell you solemnly, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke, shall disappear from the Law until its purpose is achieved. Therefore, the man who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of heaven; but the man who keeps them and teaches them will be considered great in the kingdom of heaven.
‘For I tell you, if your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.

‘You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not kill; and if anyone does kill he must answer for it before the court. But I say this to you: anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court; if a man calls his brother “Fool” he will answer for it before the Sanhedrin; and if a man calls him “Renegade” he will answer for it in hell fire. So then, if you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering. Come to terms with your opponent in good time while you are still on the way to the court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. I tell you solemnly, you will not get out till you have paid the last penny.

‘You have learnt how it was said: You must not commit adultery. But I say this to you: if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye should cause you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body thrown into hell. And if your right hand should cause you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body go to hell.

‘It has also been said: Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a writ of dismissal. But I say this to you: everyone who divorces his wife, except for the case of fornication, makes her an adulteress; and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

‘Again, you have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not break your oath, but must fulfil your oaths to the Lord. But I say this to you: do not swear at all, either by heaven, since that is God’s throne; or by the earth, since that is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, since that is the city of the great king. Do not swear by your own head either, since you cannot turn a single hair white or black. All you need say is “Yes” if you mean yes, “No” if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the evil one.’

The word that is translated here as 'Law' – actually means something more like ‘instruction’. The Law that is the Ten Commandments, has required much consideration; much translation and much discernment by teachers and prophets over the years; wondering if God really did mean 'this' or 'that' when they were given over. All this  resulting in the development of over 600 rules and guidelines – 613 instructions - about how to follow the Ten. 

Unfortunately, it seems that, as each Commandment is broken down into its multiple characteristics; the essence becomes more and more vague.

The beauty of this is that it is so much easier to play with. And as  police officers probably make the best burglars; so those that study the Law know best how to find their way around it. 

Something Matthew's Jesus struggles with time and time again. Because the Law was not made to be ‘found a way around’- particularly when much of the way around involves prestige and influence or leads to exclusion.

Jesus understands that circumstances run away with us; that we didn’t mean this or that and yet; here we are;  the more choice we get the harder it gets to make a choice; the more twists and turns the easier to get lost.

Despite the twists and turns of the this Gospel; the truth is right in the centre. Whatever you do, however you act, you must do and act out of love.

The prophet Micah sets out the Law...

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy  and to walk humbly with your God.(6:8)

...and because you walk humbly with your God so will you walk with your neighbour. 

Jesus calls us back to relationship, reminding us of our place within the Kingdom of Heaven. How are we ever going to act justly or love mercy when greed and envy demand our attention? How can we be humble when our hearts are wired to worldly desires and attachments?  How is it good to treat others as commodities to use up and discard?

We won't, we can't and it isn't - and deep inside we know. We belittle ourselves in our treatment of others.

The threats that Jesus make could also be his fears. Fears that he and his Father will lose us in the mess of life; in our inability to admit we are wrong; in our unwillingness to walk with our God. 

Vatican II introduced the idea of ressourcement to spiritual life. The retrieval and renewal of what is good - the return to the source, laying aside all that has got in the way.

Jesus makes this invitation, this plea - to say 'no', to say 'yes' - to stay close - to live in Heaven's sight.


Sunday, 5 February 2017

Spice of Life

GospelMatthew 5:13-16 

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘You are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes tasteless, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled underfoot by men.
  ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill-top cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine in the sight of men, so that, seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven.’

Chinese New Year this week, celebrated with firecrackers, liondog dances and the flavour filled dishes of Asian food. When we visit our Chinatown district for the New Year we end up in one of the ethnic supermarkets buying the authentic ingredients and spices that make up our favourite recipes and, for a few months or so, we fore-go the local takeaway and ready meals taking great pride and delight in creating dishes made from crushed and blended herbs and spices.

But then, time passes; life gets busy.  A few more months and the contents of the boxes and canisters languish at the back of the cupboard growing dusty and stale; the colours fade; the piquant flavours. What a waste.

Trading in spices has gone on for thousands of years; they are an element of the creative and expressive side of human nature that regards life as more than just 'existing'. The Eastern trade routes crossed the Galilee forwards and back; part of the reason that the area was looked down on - too many gentiles for comfort. But, be sure, the spice trade would have been welcomed there as anywhere; and, just as today, some spices more valuable than gold - ounce for ounce. 

But above all spices - salt. Even as school children ,we learn that the word 'salary' comes from the idea that the pay Roman soldiers received had a link with the value and amount of salt in the area they served. Particularly in the desert countries; salt is not just a 'spice' but is necessary for life - as necessary as water with hundreds of uses,many around  purification, cleansing and prolonging life. Salt is acknowledged for being spiritually cleansing and giving protection against the 'dark', even in the casual tradition of throwing it over our shoulder. 

There is something very human about salt - the saltiness of tears and sweat, our life's journey.  Seems to be many examples of that kind of salt in the pressures and challenges of daily life. When Jesus calls us salt; salt of the earth- salt for the earth, he reminds us that we are that precious commodity that God has given the rest of the world. We may be individuals or small communities but Jesus believes that that is enough; enough to make a difference through the tears and the sweat.

Unlike the boxes and canisters in my store cupboard we have a choice. Whether we choose to be active; to be involved; to be who God dreams us to be; to believe that we  have a vocation, a mission.  Or, choice can make us doubt; decide our opportunity has passed; we are too old,too young,too busy, we become tired, listless or afraid; preferring to stay at the back, in the dark, out of sight. We fade away and become tasteless.

 This week our diocese saw the launch of an initiative called CARITAS - loving kindness. It's intention isn't to begin a tradition of charity but to contribute and enable the many charities that already exist, making connections, lending expertise and focus and renewing the sense of who we are meant to be. Being salt as we will all, hopefully, be salt to each other. A renewal perhaps, just as I renew the store cupboard, and promise, this time, that all will be made use of or shared - that nothing will be wasted. Our saltiness, our grace, may seem a hidden thing that is only revealed in action and compassion, but we must not hide away from opportunities to let it shine.

“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything you gave me.” 
― Erma Bombeck


Saturday, 28 January 2017

It's not easy being green

Gospel Matthew 5:1-12

The Beatitudes are so important that they return more than once in the Church's calendar. They are subversive and challenging; questioning the way we live and the way that will lead to God's Kingdom. Jesus tells us that the Kingdom already exists here on earth; on our planet. But how hard is that to believe?

The Beatitudes shout out for a faith in social justice that is almost too hard to fight for because it means that you (and me) become less and less important. The current economic and political climate screams 'Me first'. 

Exploitation and suffering is never right; but  we believe there is little we can do about it. It is a global problem in more ways than one. Away in Jesus' time, the Lord was able to say that the lilies of the fields and the sparrows of the sky could live without worry because their Father was looking after them. Now the fields and the skies are empty. The humans that God gave dominion to are not taking their responsibilities very seriously. Exploitation and suffering is something that is being felt not only by humanity but by the world that God called 'very good' and we regard as 'not good enough'.

Pope Francis recently wrote his thoughts on the environment. Laudato Si describes the shared understanding from the faith and scientific communities that recognise the destructive influence of humanity and the need to forsake the 'I'm alright Jack attitude' for the sake of future generations, both human and non-human. I thought I should take up the challenge myself. Maybe these would be the Bee-atitudes?

‘How happy are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Be one of those who knows that the world is not all about them; be someone who is humble enough to understand that their own uniqueness only serves to prove just how precious every part of Creation is; to value even the smallest, most insignificant of God's creatures.

Happy the gentle: they shall have the earth for their heritage.
Be considerate; care for the earth as a living thing. The injuries caused by exploitation of oil, water and land cause scars that may never heal.  Damage caused through pollution and waste sicken the air and water, the veins and arteries of the planet. If the earth is our heritage then it should be respected as a mother or a grandmother as the early peoples used to do. After all, we have nowhere else to go; no-one else to take us in.

Happy those who mourn: they shall be comforted.
Be aware. No-one likes bad news, particularly bad news that hits close to home. Easier to turn up the power levels in your home so that you are warm and comfortable and sit watching celebrity tv.
Fourteen more species of animal have become extinct during the 21st century; 20% of Amazon rainforest destroyed in last 40 years; this has been the shortest arctic winter in history triggering more fears of rising sea levels. What is not to mourn? Our only comfort in realising that there must be something we can do something about it.

Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right: they shall be satisfied.
Be involved. There are organisations, Christian organisations that seek to help; A Rocha; CAFOD; Charter for Compassion; Catholic Climate Covenant; the Resurgence Trust all have the satisfaction of working towards a better world. Join them?

Happy the merciful: they shall have mercy shown them.
Definition of mercy - Compassion for those under one's power
Definition of Compassion - Deep awareness of suffering and the desire to relieve it
Be gracious. God gives us dominion over all - this is our realm - how we treat the world is our decision. Even if we cannot relate to the natural world itself all these actions reflect on the lives of others. The neglect of the the natural world is reflected in the neglect of human life. 'As you do to the least of these....'

Happy the pure in heart: they shall see God.
Be wholehearted. There is a theory that everything we do is for our own sake; that our actions will always be 'all about me'. Maybe there is an element of truth - I will feel better if I am doing the right thing; I will feel good if I am pleasing God; I will feel pure in heart if what I do does not undermine or take advantage of others. Listen to your conscience, buy Fairtrade and other ethical clothing, trading goods and foodstuffs.

Happy the peacemakers: they shall be called sons of God.
Be a voice for peace. War is one of the greatest threats to the planet. It uses up money; resources; people; time; energy and opportunity. The cost of building walls and strengthening borders runs high with both economic and humanitarian cost.  Borders are man made - environmental issues know no such boundaries.How can you clean a river in one country when the pollution is caused in another, hostile territory? How can you come together to plan for the future when you are too busy arguing about the mistakes of the past or the greed and politics of the present?

Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right: theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you
and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.’

Be yourself and don't expect it to be easy. As Christians we are called to be stewards; all people in the other great faiths have similar responsibilities. This is the world that the Lord has made; we should rejoice and glad in it; but there's a cost. To stand up for what we believe will always result in being made fun of; being the odd one out; being labelled a do-gooder or a doom and gloom merchant. Some people will not see the need for change; will live 'right here, right now'. As Kermit the Frog would say 'it's not easy being green'. but, like Kermit, it is part of who we are-  as Christians, as human beings -  since the Sixth Day.


Sunday, 22 January 2017

At once

Sunday GospelMatthew 4:12-23 

Hearing that John had been arrested, Jesus went back to Galilee, and leaving Nazareth he went and settled in Capernaum, a lakeside town on the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali. In this way the prophecy of Isaiah was to be fulfilled:
‘Land of Zebulun! Land of Naphtali!
Way of the sea on the far side of Jordan,
Galilee of the nations!
The people that lived in darkness has seen a great light;
on those who dwell in the land and shadow of death
a light has dawned.’
From that moment Jesus began his preaching with the message, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’
  As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon, who was called Peter, and his brother Andrew; they were making a cast in the lake with their net, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ And they left their nets at once and followed him. Going on from there he saw another pair of brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John; they were in their boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. At once, leaving the boat and their father, they followed him.
  He went round the whole of Galilee teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness among the people.

'At once'...

It seems impossible or, at least improbably for these men; with homes, families, livelihoods, cultural expectations to be prepared to turn away and risk everything on this wandering preacher.

Some theologians put forward the theory that by living in in this lakeside town, Jesus had probably been working on or near the docks; that he had sat and ate and talked with these men; that he had spent time getting to know them; that perhaps they already knew and respected him as a rabbi of sorts. There is the possibility that he had already shared his mission with them so that the call to leave was expected, planned  - they were just waiting for the right moment.

Which is certainly more logical and makes much more sense but it's not what it says in the Gospel - it's not what it says in any of the Gospels.

The call did not come at the right moment; not for any of these men. Preparing a fishing boat; deciding where to cast a net; repairing, cleaning and folding the nets for the next days fishing - none of these are five minute tasks. A boat is not crewed with a few men 'spare' - every man on the deck, every man on the dock has a job to do; a crew to fit into; a tradition and a responsibility not just to himself but to his crew;  his partners; his family; the community itself. Every man has his place; every man knows his place.

The very thought of bringing in a boat without a catch; of dropping a net still tangled and torn would have horrified those around them; would have horrified them,  looking back on it. But they did it.

Why? Not because it is part of some great plan but because Jesus calls them by name.

In the spiritual world, in every culture; your name, your real 'this is who you are' name is incredibly important and holds great power. Some believe your real name is gifted to you at an initiation point in your life. Many cultures say that  you should not share this name recklessly with others; that knowing this name will give others power over you. God, who is only 'I Am',  tells us that our names are written on his hand.

Jesus knows the power of names; he calls demons by theirs and takes away their power to name him. He names and re-names his followers; he looks into them and sees who they really are. And calls each person into the light; onto the path that will lead them home.

The four may well have good fishermen; great family men; well liked friends and workmates, even competitors in getting the best catch. They may have believed that the life they were leading was as good as it gets. Any wonderings about the why and how of things may have been something for a walk under the stars  or a sleepless night, and no more.  The empty space waiting to be filled; the awareness of 'something else' given over to childish fancy or a moment in prayer.

And then they were called, named and transformed - fishermen - fishers of men. A small difference; but enough.

In our lives it can be just as subtle; just as extreme. 

Anyone who watched the media yesterday would have witnessed a massive calling across the world as women (and men) filled cities with, mostly, peaceful protest against a feeling that something is not going right with the world. Friends that I know went to different marches, in different countries, for different reasons, some completely political, some utterly spiritual, most a mixture of the two. There has been great criticism. That they were turning up for the show, that they took advantage of their right to march, that they abandoned families, that it was a media-fuelled hysteria. Maybe for some it was a one-off, a bucket list experience. But for those who will return to lives now fuelled by the need for social justice, inclusion, equality and compassion for this planet and everyone who lives on it, maybe it was a calling. Even if they didn't recognise who called. 

We have many names, many roles to play; lives that rely and are relied on by others. God may be in there somewhere. A scripture meeting; an hour at Mass; a book now and again; understanding that there are tasks that God is asking of all of us, but we are really too busy; too involved in the other day to day priorities that we all encounter. We could do more, but not now; not yet.

Then,  in the middle of some mundane, necessary task, it will come. Jesus will hold a mirror to your eyes and show you who he sees; will  call you by the name written on his Father's hand and it will be up to you.


Saturday, 14 January 2017

In the Unknowing

GospelJohn 1:29-34 

Seeing Jesus coming towards him, John said, ‘Look, there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. This is the one I spoke of when I said: A man is coming after me who ranks before me because he existed before me. I did not know him myself, and yet it was to reveal him to Israel that I came baptising with water.’ John also declared, ‘I saw the Spirit coming down on him from heaven like a dove and resting on him. I did not know him myself, but he who sent me to baptise with water had said to me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and rest is the one who is going to baptise with the Holy Spirit.” Yes, I have seen and I am the witness that he is the Chosen One of God.’

Something that I come across with people both seeking faith and rejecting faith is the need to 'know'. How to achieve the sense of certainty that allows one to sit back and be sure. Well it's not going to happen. Not from anything you will ever be able to hold in our hand or in our head. And this is a good thing because we should not be seeking a sense of certainty, rather, a sense of mystery. 

John of the John.

The John of Old Testament prophetic, spirit driven zeal speaks out of the Gospel  of mystic revelation.

Rather than the plea for reassurance from the confined darkness; John has his Baptist speak words of labyrinthine prophecy, echoing  a leap of faith made in the dark comfort of the womb. 

The turning of John's words; signs and wonders; befores and afters; knowings and unknowings - recognises the true mystery of who Jesus truly is. 

Recognition that faith truly serves mystery. 

'There he is. And I don't even know who 'he' is.' 

Mystery and humility.

We expect John to know. 

A cousin; a visitation. 

Forgetting that, by tradition,  the Holy Spirit whisked John into the desert not long after he could walk. Was part of that retreat from the world intended to embed in John the memory of that preternatural encounter? 

To allow that leap of recognition within the womb to be his talisman, a lodestone that blazed so brightly that so many others were drawn to the light of anticipation?

The thousands gathered together on the banks of the Jordan. Gathered in anticipation of the Messiah, the Chosen One,  Seeing the light so strongly in John's eyes and voice that some thought John was surely the One. That maybe he just didn't know. 

John did know that within him, he held a reflection of the Spirit's desire. A desire that was coming to fulfillment.

Humility and mystery.

Not John; never John. 

Always the One who was 'before'. 

Before life; before birth; before time. 

Known only, and ultimately, in the Unknowing. 


Sunday, 8 January 2017

Epiphany - All that I am

Sunday Gospel
Matthew 2:1-12 

After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east. ‘Where is the infant king of the Jews?’ they asked. ‘We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.’ When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born. ‘At Bethlehem in Judaea,’ they told him ‘for this is what the prophet wrote:
And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
you are by no means least among the leaders of Judah,
for out of you will come a leader
who will shepherd my people Israel.’
Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared, and sent them on to Bethlehem. ‘Go and find out all about the child,’ he said ‘and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.’ Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward, and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.

The story of the Three Kings is one that we are comfortable with; one that we all know. Not least because the Feast Day means we can take down the decorations and start to get back to normal. Except, that, according to the Church’s calendar we should leave our decorations up until the Baptism of the Lord which is next week (those Victorians and their 12 days of Christmas! – Bah, humbug). 

There is no evidence that the Kings were kings, certainly not from the gospels. It is far more likely that these were astrologer, proto-scientist, magician types. But then someone with too much interest in royal protocol decided that if Jesus was a King then only a King was good enough to visit – it’s a wonder the shepherds managed to stay in the story, given their reputation as thieves and vagabonds.

That is the way with stories. The Chinese whisper effect, the elaboration to suit the culture, the audience, the attitude of the times. And that is often a criticism of the Gospel – that it is only stories; easier to find the discrepancies, the add-ons, the need to scientifically prove or disprove that there was a ‘star’. 
And the gifts...the strange gifts for a baby. But maybe the thing about the gifts is more about where they are from... than who they are for?

Imagine...three (more or less) wealthy, wise men; intelligent; privileged; curious. Seeking out a 'something' until they find it. And then, maybe next year, seeking something else. Sounds very contemporary to me, this spiritual wandering. Yearning for something that will satisfy what their material wealth does not. This particular portent has them intrigued; coming together to share their wonderings and then to share their wanderings. Sure that the stars are telling them something; prepared to follow an unknown path. 

So they travel, with their caravan; their starmaps and their assurance. Assured enough to enter King Herod's courts as equals; as diplomats. Believing that the accepted authority will be the authority. 

Herod does not have the answer; their faith in worldly power fails. It is a different faith which holds the power; the faith of ancients; prophecies and portents. Did they recognise this other sign, leading them further away from the world they knew? Did they notice the lilt of truth against the hiss of Herod's deceit?

And there the truth is revealed in poverty; in the lacking. Seeing how little the Christ had; how little he needed; how much he trusted. Seeing how his life was held in the loving hands of two human beings with nothing to offer but their best. They see and understand. What could they give?

They offer their best. It wasn't that these gifts spoke of anything except their own sense of value; that these gifts 'valued' them - as merchants; as traders; as elite. It isn't the gifts they give but what they represent.  Offering what the Rich Young man, many years later, cannot. They give what had defined them; they give themselves into the baby's hands. Letting go of the world's control over them they ignore Herod's command; they hear the voices of angels; they return to their country by a different way - a way of humility and faith; a way of the prophet; a way of witness.

What can they give him? What Thomas gives as his witness. The witness of faith; that Jesus is 'My Lord and my God'.