Are we willing to become enemies with the world?
That’s the question that comes to mind as I reflect on this story of the Magi and their interaction with King Herod on this Feast of the Epiphany.
Are we, as a Church, willing to lose goodwill, respect, and relevance — in the eyes of the world?
Because I think what inspires me the most about the Magi — the Three Wise Men who traveled from so far away to come adore the Lord Jesus — is that they were willing to become enemies with King Herod. In fact, they were willing to make him… absolutely furious.
Think about it for just a moment.
At first, the Magi were welcome guests to Herod. He sees them as useful, right? He tries to get information from them about this mysterious star that has appeared over Bethlehem. He feigns genuine interest in this prophecy about this newborn king of the Jews — He wants to find out as much as possible from them.
In a certain shallow way, the Magi are at this point…. “friends” with Herod. At least… friends of convenience! Friends of utility!
It is within that context that Herod then urges them:
“Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.”
When King Herod first spoke those words to the Magi, they obviously did not quite realize his evil intentions. They, rightly, gave Herod the benefit of the doubt.
And let’s be honest — in this, the three Wise Men exhibited a certain virtue. A healthy open-mindedness to the world around them. They were not bunkered and sheltered in a distorted, unhelpful way. They were sincerely seeking Truth, Goodness and Beauty wherever they could find it!
They hoped and believed — in a simple, admirable way — that everyone else (Herod included) was also sincerely seeking the same ideals, the same virtues, and the same truths they were looking for.
But the fact of the matter was — Herod was not interested in Truth. Herod was not interested in adoring Jesus.
Herod’s intentions were downright evil as we come to find out. They were inspired by envy, fear, and pride. He was threatened by the Truth, and his friendship with the Magi was entirely contingent on whether or not they would betray the Truth. Whether or not they would compromise and play along with all of his evil plans…
As the story goes, the Magi faithfully follow the beautiful star and they come at last “to the place where the child was.” They see him there with His beautiful Mother Mary. And in wonder and awe, they fall prostrate in adoration. They offer Jesus superabundant, royal gifts. Priestly gifts! Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh!
And, as the gospel recounts: “having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.”
THAT is crucial!
The Magi discerned, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit directing them and guiding them and nudging them — NOT to return to Herod. NOT to stay friends with him.
They suddenly perceived that Herod in fact… DID NOT BELONG, WAS NOT WELCOME in the manger because he had evil intentions. He did not belong there in the intimacy of the Holy Family, because he was seeking — not to adore — but to destroy.
And so they avoided Herod. They kept the location of Jesus hidden, and thereby they automatically renounced friendship with Herod and his accomplices.
They chose instead to go home by “another way.”
What happens after they do this? What are the consequences of this choice?
We did not hear this part of the story in this weekend’s gospel, but Matthew goes on to report that “when Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious!”
And in his fit of fear and fury, he went so far as to order “the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.”
Now the Magi could not have possibly imagined the horrible and terrible consequences of their fidelity to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. But their obedience is beautiful and inspirational all the same.
Because they were willing to become enemies with the world and its cruel intentions.
Why? Why were they willing to do that?
Because they were living according to a much deeper loyalty — a loyalty they discovered when they met Jesus — this newborn little king. This divine king.
They valued the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords infinitely MORE than they valued worldly approval and friendship, safety, and acceptance…
They were willing to be rejected. They were willing to be hated even!
How does this apply to us today?
Well, more than we could possibly ever know.
Unfortunately we find ourselves in the midst of a world that does not have good intentions, does not have Gospel values informing it. Like it or not, there are currently countless Herods in our culture today who are seeking diligently for ways into your family living room.
And they are cunning. They are deceptive. They pander to our modern sensibilities to be nice and sentimental about everything. And try their best to come across as innocent, friendly and welcoming.
But the brutal truth is this:
If we find ourselves accepted and loved by this world — a world that has gone off the rails. A world that actively devalues and tries to destroy the traditional family. Undermining father and motherhood. A world that denies that marriage is between one man and one woman. That encourages promiscuity, cohabitation of unmarried couples, and contraception. A world that claims gender is totally fluid and unconnected to our physical biology. A world that claims children are expendable and erasable if we don’t want them! A world that says population control is key to protecting the environment. A world that welcomes the occult, the demonic, witchcraft, and false religions as completely legitimate, harmless and good. A world of rampant relativism —
If we are friends with THAT world… then I’m sorry, but we are being deceived by Herod.
We’re welcoming Herod back into the intimacy of the Manger, where he simply does not belong.
If any of this concerns you or challenges you — I invite you to remember these words of Our Lord:
“If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.”
In our attempt to stay relevant and reasonable… modern and smart… have we forgotten this?
The world does, in fact, hate the Church. Worldliness is opposed to the Gospel.
Jesus regularly speaks of Satan as the “ruler” or “prince of this world.” The powers and principalities of this fallen world, guided by the work of fallen angels opposed to God, are threatened by and hate this Newborn King who we come to Mass in order to worship. Who we come to Mass in order to make the center of our lives.
Bishops and priests, mothers and fathers, single people — EVERYONE — have to get more honest as a Church about this fact if we want our families and parishes to flourish, if we want to evangelize the entire world more effectively — drawing them to the Truth and not a perversion of the Truth. If we are faithful to Christ in this way, who knows! We might even end up converting a couple of those Herods who hate us!
But St. John in one of his letters warns us clearly enough: “Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
Scriptures like that abound, if you crack open just about any page ion the Bible, and they should give us great pause.
They should continually remind us and nudge us NOT to go back to Herod. Not to naively show him where Jesus is. Not to have that false optimism — “Oh, Herod doesn’t mean any trouble! He doesn’t want to destroy us!”
I encourage you: Ask for the Holy Spirit to fill you and give you strength to stand up. Ask the Spirit plainly: “Come. Come Holy Spirit: Make me brave enough to be rejected. Make me courageous and honest enough to make the world furious. To rock the boat. To be hated.”
Flying under the radar, playing along with the world and its games, and trying to be friends with people with dark designs is the road to nowhere.
It is the path to true irrelevance. And worse yet — It’s the road to eternal ruin.
And so to conclude, I hope — I sincerely hope — and maybe this is scary. I hope the world hates YOU! I hope you make the modern day Herods absolutely FURIOUS.
I hope you and your family actively thwart his designs. I hope you get under his skin and drive him absolutely nuts!
The modern Herods of the world hate it when you put limits on screen time for your kids. He hates it when you install filters and blocks on inappropriate websites. He hates it when you inspect school lesson plans, or ask questions about the problematic, anti-Christian ideas being communicated in the classroom. He hates it when you insist on gathering together as a family and talking to God as if He really actually exists. He hates it when you pray spiritual warfare prayers against his work in the lives of your kids, praying fervently for healing from past sins and wounds.
He hates it when you lead your kids deeper into virtue, when you help them take responsibility, when you expect great things from them and when you show them great tenderness and mercy when they do fail and when they do make mistakes. He hates it when you and your family come to Confession together when you follow the Commandments, and try very hard to love one another and forgive one another selflessly. He hates it when you make going to Mass THE top priority over work, over sports, over any extracurricular activity.
I urge you — Be more like the Magi!
Be willing to go home another way… even if it means making Herod furious!
St. Francis de Sales once said that “The declared enemies of God and His Church… must be criticized as much as possible.” And then he goes on to say: “It is a work of charity to shout: ‘Here is the wolf!’ when it enters the flock or anywhere else.”
We do ourselves no good trying our best to become friends with today’s Herods.
It’s much better to be honest. It’s much better to be blunt. To cry out: “Here is a real wolf!” Jesus himself, when he was referring to Herod’s successor (when he was a grown man) He said — “Go and tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people.’”
So FEAR NOT! Listen again to the words of our first reading from the prophet Isaiah:
“Darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the LORD shines, and over you appears his glory!”
So focus on the glory of Jesus. Be fiercely loyal to Him and to His Church. Follow that mysterious and beautiful Star that is so trustworthy.
Let the Herods rage and fume.
We don’t care. We’re going home another way.
Home, to be with God.