Book Reflection: The Story of the Other Wise Man
By Lu Mountenay of Independence, MO, USA
“Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” —Matthew 2:2 NRSV
In the new year, we will ponder Epiphany, the story of the Magi. Henry Van Dyke’s The Story of the Other Wise Man (www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/10679) has always intrigued me. Although classified as fiction, it is relevant today. It causes me to wonder what I might encounter while on a journey to visit the newborn Christ child. Or while on a pilgrimage to find Christ at the center of my life. And, I wonder if what I might find on the journey would keep me from my purpose. Or is the journey itself an encounter with Christ?
This is a summary of Van Dyke’s story: Artaban, the fourth of the Magi, or wise men, made plans with Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar to meet at a temple in Babylonia. They would watch for the prophetic star and when Artaban joined them, they would leave for Jerusalem in search of the promised Son of God.
As the “other wise man” watched the skies, he saw a “point of white radiance.” With his eye single to the star, Artaban gathered his three jewels, gifts for the new prince, and began his journey.
He focused on making good time to keep his appointment with the others. He wisely planned the few stops he must make. He was so intent on his journey, he almost didn’t see a man lying on the dark road, but his tired horse balked at the sight. Artaban reluctantly stopped and found the man humbly dressed, pallid, and limp. For days he ministered to him with food and water, and gave him one of the jewels so he could buy passage on the next caravan to pass.
He continued his journey, now on a camel, and worried he would miss the appointment. He finally arrived at the temple only to find a message the others could wait no longer. He must follow them across the desert to Bethlehem. In despair, he continued.
At Bethlehem he stopped at the house of a young mother hushing her baby. She told him the Magi had been there and left. The young family they visited fled for Egypt. Just then Roman soldiers entered the village and were going house to house killing the firstborn children. The mother crouched in the corner with her child. Artaban blocked the doorway and told the soldier there was no one else in the house. He gave the soldier his second jewel, and the soldier went his way.
In deep despair, he went to the local rabbi who told him, “Do not look for the prince in a palace or among the rich. Search among the poor, lonely, and oppressed.”
So he continued his journey. For 33 years he carried his last jewel, searching for the young man, Jesus. As an old man, Artaban came to Jerusalem and asked a man why there was such an excited crowd of people. “We are going to Golgotha, where there will be an execution.” After finding they were preparing to execute Jesus, he vowed to pay the ransom with his last jewel.
While searching for the captain in charge, he came across a young girl. Abusive slave traders were about to sell her as a slave. He heard her praying to God in the manner of those who believe in Jesus. Artaban trembled. “It was the old conflict in his soul…Twice the gift which he had consecrated to the Christ child had been drawn from his hand to the service of humanity. This was his third trial, the ultimate probation, the final and irrevocable choice.”
Artaban died in the earthquake that followed Jesus’ execution. He never saw the face of Jesus, but at the end, he knew he had found the Christ as he served the least, those of whom Christ spoke.
Prayer for Peace
Compassionate God, help us to know we encounter Jesus many times during our lives. Help us choose to serve and to share Christ’s peace.
Spiritual Practice: Making Responsible Choices
Prayerfully seek God’s guidance in your choices. The practice of discernment invites us to orient our lives toward God and God’s vision for us and creation. Begin by reviewing the responsibilities and opportunities in the day before you. Take these choices into prayer, asking God for wisdom and insight about what matters most.
Today, God, I will respond with your compassion as I journey.