Epiphany of Our Lord
A literary masterpiece, this brief episode in Matthew's story has captured the imagination of Christians for centuries and inspired the formation of numerous legends. The magi came to be identified as kings, probably due to an association of this passage with Isaiah 60:3. They came to be called "wise men," an identification so pervasive that it is even used in English translations of the Bible. In the Middle Ages, the Western Church decided there were three magi (the Eastern church has twelve) and assigned them names: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. Such legends are not insignificant for Christian piety, but they may distract us from the story Matthew tells. Matthew's story is indeed about kings and wise men, but these figures are people other than the magi. The kings in Matthew 2 are Herod and Jesus. These two kings represent two different world empires - Rome (earth) and God (divine).