A Catholic Monthly Magazine

The Legend of the Fourth Wise Man

Adapted by the Editor

Artaban lived in the mountains of ancient Persia. On the basis of his study of the planets and stars, he predicted the birth of a great King. He sold all his possessions in order to buy gifts for the King – a radiant blue sapphire, a perfect ruby and a spectacular pearl. He then began his journey to Jerusalem, where he had agreed to meet with three other wise men to seek out the new-born King.

The journey was difficult, with many hold-ups. One day he saw a man, clearly very ill, lying on the path, and, as Artaban turned away, the man begged for help. Artaban hesitated, because if he stayed to help a dying stranger even for a short while, he might miss his three friends. But if he turned away, the man would surely die. In compassion, he took care of the sick man until he began to get well.

“I do not have anything with which to pay you,” said the man, “... except this: our prophets have told us that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem, not in Jerusalem. May God guide you there, because you nursed a man who was ill to the point of death.”

When Artaban reached the place where he was to meet his friends, he received a message to the effect that they had decided not to wait any longer, and that he should follow them across the desert. Artaban went back to Babylon and sold the sapphire so that he could buy camels and food for the journey.

He arrived in Bethlehem with his remaining gifts three days after the other wise men had found Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and had honoured the new-born King with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

In a small house, he met a woman with her son. She told him that Joseph had taken Jesus and Mary, fleeing in secret, because Herod feared the King would take his throne, and was killing all male children. Even as the woman spoke, Herod’s soldiers could be heard coming to kill any male children they found. Artaban rushed to the door and held out the ruby to the soldier, who grabbed it, saying to his troop, “March on! There are no children here.”

Artaban was sad. “I have spent for man what was meant for God,” he said. “Will I ever be worthy to gaze on the face of the King?” Weeping for joy, the woman said, “You have saved my son’s life. May the Lord bless you, keep you, and give you peace.”

For thirty-three years, Artaban continued searching for the little family from Bethlehem. He was tired, worn out, ill and ready to die, but he kept on looking for the King. He came to Jerusalem. He heard that a great person was to be put to death that day. When people told him of this man’s life and teachings, Artaban realised that this man was the King. He made his way to Golgotha, hoping that his splendid pearl might purchase his King’s release. Then he saw a platoon of soldiers dragging a girl in chains behind them. “Save me; I am to be sold as a slave.”

The fourth wise man knew what he must do. He took the pearl from his purse. Never had it seemed so stunningly luminous, radiant; and he gave it for the girl’s freedom. He was immensely sad that he now had nothing to give his King, so sad that he collapsed with grief. Then, in his half-concious state, he recognised the gentle voice of his King: “Take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world. Insofar as you did it to the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me” (Matthew 25: 34, 40).

Artaban’s journey was over. His gifts were accepted. He had found his King.

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