Gold, Frankincense & Myrrh

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THE STORY OF THE THREE KINGS - PART III

[Read Part II -- Read Part IV]

As we know the Angel also spoke to St. Joseph in a dream warning him to take the Holy Family and flee to Egypt until Herod had died and could no longer hurt the Newborn King. He and our Lady promptly obeyed. When Mary arose, she bound together in a cloth the gifts which the Three Kings had given them and took them with her. But somewhere along the road from Bethlehem to Egypt, in their haste, in the dark, the bundle was lost. Surely this was Divine Providence as only through this misfortune would God’s omnipotent and merciful care for us shine forth most brilliantly. The Holy Family thus arrived in Egypt in great poverty and spent seven long difficult years as poor foreigners in that land. But what of the gifts?

Both Balthasar and Caspar had given the first fruits of their land, incense and myrrh respectively. Melchior however had given his gold in two forms. First, he offered the Holy Family the most prized possession of his land: a golden apple. This apple had been fashioned by Alexander the Great, that mightiest of generals and kings who had conquered the known world during his brief life. Alexander had demanded tribute in gold from every land under his dominion. He took this gold gathered from all around the world, including some of the most prized "red" gold from the Land of Arabia, and had his master craftsmen melt it down and fashion it into one golden apple. It symbolized the great harmony and beauty which he had forged by uniting the world under his one dominion. Alexander died battling in India and there the precious golden apple remained. From there it found its way into the treasury of King Melchior. Alexander most likely chose an apple on account of the role played by golden apples in Greek Mythology, but this particular symbolism is not lost on Christian men formed by the Scriptures. Furthermore, the giving of this particular apple to Christ, the true King of the world, clearly has great theological significance: all the nations of the gentiles shall come to worship Him and offer Him tribute (cf. Ps 71:10-11). Blessed Mother and St. Joseph in turn offered this golden apple to God and it was deposited in the great Temple treasury in Jerusalem.

Melchior had also given another gift of gold: thirty small golden coins or 'pennies'. This gift did not have nearly the same monetary value as the apple, but Melchior offered it as a fitting gift on account of its great significance. You see, Melchior knew that it had been the property of the King of the Jews and so he felt obligated to return it to its rightful owner. The tradition regarding these coins is utterly miraculous. It is so astounding that it could only have been conceived of, and guided by, Divine Providence. These thirty coins were originally the property of Thare, a rich and powerful lord in the land of the Chaldeans. When he died in the land of Haran (cf. Gn 11:32), the coins passed on to this son, Abram. As we all know, Abram's name was changed by God to Abraham. He took these coins with him when he left his homeland to trustingly follow God and find the Promised Land. Abraham used this money to purchase the land in which he buried his wife, Sarah, and which he designated as his own resting place (cf. Gn 23). These same coins were later used by certain Midianite traders to purchase a slave boy from his eleven brothers. Thus Joseph was taken to Egypt and the coins were returned to the family of Abraham (cf. Gn 37). When the Patriarch Jacob died, his twelve sons sent these thirty gilt pennies to the land of Saba to buy spices and ornaments for his great burial (cf. Gn 50). Then in the time of King Solomon, the Queen of Saba offered these pennies and many other rich jewels and treasures to King Solomon (cf. 3 King 10). They once more returned to the family of Abraham and came to rest in the Great Temple of God in Jerusalem. Afterwards, when the Temple was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar (cf. 4 Kings 24), these coins along with all the other riches of the Temple were stolen and taken to Babylon. This is how they finally came into the possession of King Melchior, who knowing they had come from Jerusalem, saw it most fit to offer them back to the King of Jews (and rightful heir of Abraham).

Yet these coins, along with the frankincense and myrrh, were lost to the Holy Family en route to Egypt. They were found by a shepherd of that country who suffered from a great disease which no doctor could cure. He secretly kept these things hidden and revealed his great find to no other soul. One day, just shortly before the Passover Feast, the shepherd heard of a prophet so holy that he healed all men with but a word. He came to the prophet, who was Christ, and prayed to Him for grace and help. And so great was the shepherd's faith that he was indeed healed. Once made whole, the shepherd offered Christ his greatest treasure: that which he had found in the field so long ago. Our Lord of course knew exactly what these gifts truly were. He graciously bade the shepherd to instead go to the Temple and offer all these things upon the sacred altar to God. This the shepherd did with zeal and most fervent devotion.

A priest of the Temple saw how honorable these gifts were and so he burned the incense in the golden censor above the altar. A few days later, on the third day before Christ's crucifixion, the priests of the temple took out of their common treasury the thirty gilt pennies and gave them to Judas Iscariot. And so our Lord was "sold" by the false Judas for these very same thirty gilt pennies. Judas of course returned this blood money and the priests used half of them to purchase a burial field for pilgrims and the other half as payment to the soldiers who had watched over our Lord's tomb and witnessed the Resurrection. (The reason these pennies are called 'silver' in the Gospel is because 'silver' was the common name for all coinage in that country at that time, even though these particular ones were of gilded gold.) As for the myrrh, it was taken by the Jews and a portion of it was mixed into the vinegar which was given to Our Lord as He hung upon the Cross. The remaining portion of the myrrh was given by a prince of the Jews, Nicodemus, along with other aloes and spices, to Our Lady for the burial of Our Lord. Thus we see how the gold affirmed Christ's particular and unique kind of Kingship: His Crucifixion in this life and Triumphant Eternal Kingdom in the Life of the Resurrection. The incense affirmed His divinity as it was offered to God in the Temple, and the myrrh, used at the time of His Crucifixion and solemn burial, confirmed His humanity.

After our Lord had triumphed victoriously over death, after the battle He won over the devil for our redemption and salvation, after His freeing the souls from the Limbus Patrum, after He ascended into Heaven, He then sent His Apostles the Holy Ghost. He had commanded them to preach His Truth to all Nations, to Baptize all men, and to administer the Sacraments, bringing sanctifying grace to all and extending His mission and His grace across the entire face of the earth until the end of time. In particular, Our Lord sent His Apostle St. Thomas to the East. St. Thomas reached as far as India and throughout the lands he traversed he preached the passion and resurrection of Christ. (There is ample evidence suggesting St. Thomas even went so far East as to reach the “New World” but we must relegate that subject to be covered under the ‘saint story’ of the life of St. Thomas.)

The Apostle Thomas preached the word of God and performed many miracles by the Sign of the Cross. In many temples he entered in the East, he saw the Star by which the three worshipful Kings had found the Christ. In the Star was an image of a Child and the Sign of the Cross above. St. Thomas asked the temple priests as to the manner and origin of this Star and so he came to hear of the Three Great Kings who had sought the King of kings and worshiped Him at His birth; they were after all very well known throughout these lands.

The Kings for their part had long prayed to God that they should not die without encountering Christ once again. They longed for salvation and to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Ever since they had returned from their trip, they had agreed to visit each other periodically and this custom they had faithfully preserved. When they met they would offer these prayers and heart felt desires in unison to God. Thus when they heard that a disciple of Christ was in their lands, they gathered together once more, and as one went out to meet him. They found St. Thomas and came to him arrayed in their finest garments and with a multitude of their peoples. St. Thomas received these three worthy kings with great joy and declared to them all that Christ had taught. He told them of the Passion, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension as well as many other prophecies and articles of Faith. He especially informed them about the necessity of the sacrament of Baptism. He taught that only in this way can a man die and rise with Christ, be united to Him, and enter into His Kingdom. The Kings begged for and humbly received Baptism at the Apostle's hand. Their life long prayer was answered by God. They in turn received the Holy Ghost and began to preach Christ to all their people. Noting their great nobility, justice, and plenitude of all the other virtues, St. Thomas - prior to his death - imposed his hands upon the Three Kings and consecrated them Bishops.

[Read Part II -- Read Part IV]