The wise men jumped the gun. They thought Jesus was in Jerusalem. Following the star from the east, it led them through the great city, and, drawing near, they must have said to one another “of course, Jerusalem! This is where we will find the king.” They almost blew the lid off the whole thing. Like blabbermouths spoiling a surprise, they rush to King Herod saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage” (Mt 2:2). They thought they were late for the party. Instead, they announce it to those who weren’t invited: “When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (Mt 2:3). The wise men quickly realize their mistake. They learn their lesson too. They don’t say another word in the gospel.
Assumption made the wise men foolish. The star was leading them through the city. It didn’t stop over Jerusalem. But seeing that royal city on the horizon, the wise men concluded that Jerusalem must be their destination. They took their eyes off the star, and trusting their own wisdom, they judged that a king must be born in a kingly city: “has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish?” (1Cor 1:20). Their ‘wisdom’ made them rash. When they realized their folly, they looked up again: “and behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was” (Mt 2:9).
The beginning of St. John’s Gospel announces, “the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (Jn 1:9). We see this happening to the wise men. They are gradually enlightened. Following their own wisdom they stumble in the dark, making a mess of everything. Learning not to rely on themselves, they turn again to follow the light from heaven and are led to “the light of the world” (Jn 8:12).
The wise men began their journey confident, educated and wealthy. But when they reach this king, when they reach their journey’s end, they lay face down in a dirty manger, doing him homage (Mt 2:11). Here is this king, the one whose coming the very stars had heralded, lying in a manger with little more than a cloth to cover him. What they must have learned in that moment. His poverty showed them their poverty. His weakness showed them their weakness. His wisdom showed them their foolishness.
Heaven must be our guide. Otherwise we risk getting caught in Jerusalem and never making it to Bethlehem. Foolish in ourselves, we do best to keep our eyes on him in whose “light we see light” (Ps 36:10).