“Is he here?” One of them asked.
“Can we see him?” Added another.
The target of their questions stood in quiet regard. He examined this group of men carefully. They were wealthy, to be sure. They traveled with a retinue of guards and servants that had announced their arrival even before they arrived in the city; and since they had arrived they had been asking the same questions at every place of importance – at the temples and squares and markets and, now, even here.
“Is he here?”
“Have you seen him?”
“Can we see him?”
Here they stood in the most lavish palace this part of the world had ever seen; amidst wealth few men had ever known existed, let alone beheld with their own eyes. They stood before him, a man known for his ruthlessness far and wide. A man that was so powerful that not a day went by in his more than thirty years as ruler without him ordering someone’s execution. They stood before him and asked their galling questions.
“Is he here?”
“Can we see him?”
Herod took a deep breath and stopped himself from ordering these men be torn limb from limb. Instead he smiled at them and invited them to sit and enjoy his hospitality. He listened dotingly as they told him their story of coming to pay homage to the “King of Kings”. He had questions of his own.
“When did you first see the star? How long has your journey taken you? Have you met anyone else who’s looking for the child? What does the prophecy say about this king?”
Herod believed the magi were open and honest with him, never suspecting his true motive. Much of what they said aligned with what he had already been told by local scholars regarding the birth of the Messiah. Enough so that he was inclined to believe the child had actually been born. Finding him, though, would be the tough part.
Herod was wealthy and powerful, with the ability and strength to exert his will over these simple people he ruled. But, alas, they did not love him. One of his sons had told him once that the people might love him more if he stopped killing so many of them, but you had to take that boy’s words with a grain of salt since he had been on the way to his own execution at the time. He had had motive to believe what he said. Regardless, whatever the reason, the fact remained: the people feared Herod, but they did not love him.
This, of course, made getting delicate information from the people about something as sensitive as the birth of their messiah a difficult operation.
“If you honored gentlemen would be so kind as to let me know when you find this child, I would remain deeply in your debt,” Herod stated. “I, myself, converted to Judaism long ago and would like to pay homage to the new King of the Jews.”
The magi nodded and accepted his request and so he pointed them on the road to Bethlehem and saw them off while he awaited a message that would never come.
God would see to that.
As they gathered up their servants and bodyguards to set out on the final leg of their journey, the magi wondered aloud about the madness of Herod.
“It’s the wealth and power,” Balthazar offered.
“No,” said Melchior, “it’s the lust for wealth and power that has led him to the great madness of emptiness.”
“I wonder,” asked Caspar, “what will this new king offer?”
As one the men turned toward the star they had been following for nearly two years.
Is He here? Can we see Him?
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