On Sunday, the whole of Christendom celebrated the Feast of the Three Kings. All of us know them as Melchor, Gaspar and Baltazar. In the Philippines, we officially brought to a close “the longest Christmas season in the world.”
Every child knows the story of the three kings who followed the great star, which appeared when Christ was born. The star led them to the manger in Bethlehem. In the Holy Bible, they are referred to as “The Three Wise Men from the East” or “Magi.” This story has been told and retold to millions of children in Christmas pageants, tableaus, plays, movies and musicals.
But how many have heard the story of “The Other Wise Man”? This story says that originally there were four wise men, and not three. What happened to the fourth wise man?
I was about eleven years old when I first heard the story of the fourth wise man from my father, who happened to be my second year high school teacher. I have never forgotten that story.
The name of the fourth wise man was Artaban, a magus from Persia, a believer in Zoroaster, Along with fellow magi, he had been studying the stars, in anticipation of a Chaldean prophecy that a great king will rise from Israel, who will bring peace, truth and justice. His birth will be announced by the appearance of a great star, and the confluence of two major planets.
When the star appeared, Artaban and three other magi from different places agreed that they would travel together to Israel, bring gifts, and worship the newborn King,
They agreed to meet at the Temple of Seven Spheres in Babylon.
Artaban sold all he had and bought three perfect jewels—a huge, brilliant sapphire; a perfect crimson ruby; and a luminescent pearl as big as a pigeon’s egg. He felt that the King deserved all that he possessed.
The first gift: Helping a dying man
Artaban was crossing the desert and nearing the temple at Babylon when he came across a dying, wounded man. He knew that his religion obliged him to resuscitate the dying man but he also knew that in doing so, his trip might be delayed and his fellow magi would not wait for him. He would put at risk his heart’s desire—to worship the newborn king and offer his priceless gifts.
Artaban decided to help the dying man. He spent long hours caring for the wounded man and used his healing medicines to revive his patient. He did not leave until he was sure his patient had recovered.
As expected, the three other wise man were no longer at their meeting place. They left a message that he can follow them. Since it was dangerous to travel across the desert alone, Artaban sold the first of his three gifts—the sapphire—in order to buy camels and equip a caravan.
Artaban gave up a gift intended for the King he wanted to worship in order to save the life of a dying man.
The second gift: Saving the life of a child
The man whose life he saved happened to be a Hebrew. He advised Artaban that according to prophecies, the King would be born NOT in the capital city of Jerusalem but in the small town of Bethlehem of Judea.
Artaban proceeded to Bethlehem, hoping to catch up with his fellow magi and find the newborn King. He did not find the King or his fellow magi. The Child/King and his parents had fled three nights before to Egypt. Joseph had been warned in a dream that the Judean King Herod wanted to kill the child. The three wise men had also left hurriedly by another route to escape the wrath of Herod.
Our other wise man sought shelter in a house occupied by a woman and her baby boy. Suddenly the soldiers of Herod entered the village. They were there to kill all baby boys aged two years and younger, upon Herod’s instruction.
Again, Artaban made an agonizing decision. Should he give up the perfect ruby intended for the perfect king in order to save the life of an innocent child? He did.
Artaban gave the ruby to bribe the soldier who was going to kill the baby boy. Once again, a gift intended for a King was given up to save the life of a child.
Thirty-three years of searching
Our other wise man Artaban, proceeded to Egypt in search of the King. His search proved fruitless. A wise rabbi told him that the King he was seeking could not be found in palaces and great mansions. He could be found among the poor and the oppressed.
For the next thirty-three years Artaban moved among the fetid slums, the poor villages and the communities of refugees and beggars. He healed the sick, helped fed the hungry and did what he could to relieve human suffering. Still, he did not find the King.
Finally, he realized that he had grown old and could die anytime. Artaban decided to go to Jerusalem, in a final and last effort to look for the King, and give his last, most precious gift: the pearl the size of a pigeon’s egg.
The third gift: Saving a young girl
Artaban arrived in Jerusalem. He was surprised to find people rushing to Golgotha. He was informed that they were going to watch the crucifixion of a Man who said he was the King of the Jews. People said that he had done good work—fed the hungry, healed the sick, and given comfort to the sorrowful. Artaban knew immediately that this was the King he had been searching for thirty-three years. With great difficulty, and in great pain, he started climbing the path to Golgotha. He wanted to be in time to save the King by offering the beautiful, perfect pearl as ransom.
Suddenly a young girl rushed to him and held on to his feet. She begged to be rescued from soldiers who were arresting her for the debts of her dead parents. She would be sold into slavery. Once again, Artaban had to choose between saving a young girl from slavery and saving the King who was the object of this thirty-three year quest. Artaban gave up the pearl intended as offering to the King in order to save the life of a young girl.
The death of Artaban
Artaban was dying. He did not find the King. He had given away the gifts intended for Him. Still he was at peace. As he lay dying, he heard a tender voice saying, “Come you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Artaban whispered wonderingly, “Lord when did I see you hungry and fed you, or thirsty and gave you drink? When did I see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did i see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”
The voice tenderly answered, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” And Artaban took his last breath and entered the kingdom of heaven.
A message from the other wise man
A few years back I traced the authorship of the story my father told me. It was Henry Van Dyke who wrote it.
It is now the year 2014. The message from the other wise man still resonates with the present generation. We claim that we are all people of faith. We claim to love and worship Him. How do we do it? By building churches, going on expensive pilgrimages, sponsoring religious events, praying during the obligatory days—Christmas, Holy Week,—and giving huge donations to church ? There is also another way—the Artaban Way—by serving the least, the poorest of our brethren and sisters.