Three Kings... or not?

Three kings came to Jesus. They fill nativity scenes in homes and churches, even roundabouts in Estepona, and they provide an extra bank holiday for Spain. But what were they really? A bit of Bible detective work helps here.

They were wealthy. They had funds to travel a long way on a whim, and they came with gifts, not just a pair of slippers, but gifts of the wealthy - including gold.

Along with wealth they had influence, some kind of presence about them because, on arrival in Jerusalem, they get specialist advice and the opportunity to talk to the King of the Jewish nation - Herod the Great.

They came from the East. Maybe present day India, Pakistan or Iran (Persia) - perhaps even China? And if they were travelling, they would almost certainly have followed trade routes so that they had supplies for animals, food and shelter.

And there were at least two of them. Maybe many more, but we guess at three only because of the three specific gifts listed. Some churches traditionally count twelve, rather than three!

They were full of Eastern wisdom. That is what Saint Matthew is trying to say in his gospel. We mostly ignore our star signs but for them the sign of the star was key. Knowledge has changed, and 2000 years ago wisdom included astrology, a reading of the stars, because it was thought their location made a difference in our world. Some people still believe they do; I don't. But God organises an event in the sky that is primarily seen by them, which so unsettled them that they had to leave all and travel for weeks, months or even years. It was as if God was speaking personally to them in the particular way they understood. They had been searching for some message, and using their language, their wisdom, God spoke.

It can't have been three wise men, said the comic, for you will never find three blokes who are wise in the same place at the same time! The Bible says nothing about them being men, just that they were Magi, maybe priests of some religion or other, certainly not Jews, but people from outside the culture of Israel who saw this moment as momentous and were determined to be there. With all their wisdom a knowledge, they turn up and worship.

Names - well Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar are just traditions - and other Christian churches have different names for them.

So not necessarily kings, not necessarily three, not necessarily men and almost certainly not Jews, but wise, unnamed, wealthy travellers interpreting a sign from God in their own language, and walking with faith into the unknown to celebrate a king who would change the world forever. How our world needs people of faith willing to risk all for the common good!