On December 28th annually, parishes of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and throughout the Catholic Church recall a horrible moment that not only cast a dark shadow over the birth of Jesus, but also shattered the innocence of the Jewish faithful, a feast day known as the Holy Innocents.
Herod the Great had been the King of Israel for some thirty years, and although he was little more than a stooge for the Roman occupation forces, he had managed an opulent lifestyle, and was never shy about showing off the luxuries that his office provided him. One of the greatest construction projects of the BC era was Herod’s treasured Masada, a plateau-top fortress with castle and every luxury of the day, which easily rivals the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World for its majesty.
The king was doing his best Henry the Eighth impression, lapping up the luxury of his kingdom, when three mystics and their entourage showed up in Jerusalem, who were perhaps Asian, Persian, or even Babylonian; no one really knows for sure, any more than there is any certainty to the names they have been given over the years. They were never three kings, but they did have some astrological knowledge, which suggests they may have even been Assyrians, the first people to observe and record the visible planets and stars, and the first three solar eclipses studied by humans. They presented themselves to the king and told Herod of this wonderful prophecy: how a star in the east would be a sign that a Messiah, a king among the Jews, had been born, and their sojourn was to plot the location of this babe, that they might see for themselves.
Herod could not have been more threatened. He heard the words “King of the Jews,” and his imagination ran away with him. Certainly this was not the first time a prophecy said a new king was born, but all of those predictions of late had been about his multitude of children borne to him by ten wives. This was a new intrusion on his kingship and he feared losing not only Masada but all of Israel. Herod jumped on the mystic’s bandwagon and told them it was a great idea to locate the child, and afterward, they should report back to him, that he could worship, too.
Throughout the conception and birth of Jesus, God directed the activity in protection of his Son through dreams, instructing Joseph and the wise men. He first told Joseph to take the child and his mother to Egypt. Ever since the Exodus, there had been fragmentary settlements of Jews all the way form Judea to the Nile. It is likely, the Holy Family made their home among one of those communities waiting for the Lord to return them to Galilee. In the meantime, another dream convinced the magi that they should not return home through Jerusalem, and they went a different way, possibly guided beyond the Dead Sea by the Essene community of Qumran, famous for the Dead Sea Scrolls, where they could have easily passed into Syria.
Herod was incensed by the deception, and he ordered his army to kill every male child two years or younger throughout the entire city and adjoining district of Bethlehem. This was not the first time children had been mass murdered. The Egyptians are said to have done it to the descendants of Jacob living in northern Egypt. Old Testament Scripture says that the Jewish God, who was not known by YHWH as yet, retaliated in kind. It was a common practice of conquerors in those days to capture the males and relocate them to other countries to prevent any revolt. At different times, the Jews themselves were captured and taken to Assyria and to Babylon.
For Herod, there must have been some sense of relief that the threat was extinguished. His greed and his self-worth far exceeded any rational attempt to feel guilt or remorse over the deed. Most scholars agree that Jesus was born in 6BC, and the reign of Herod the Great ended with the king’s rather unceremonious death in 4BC five days after having one of his own sons executed. Herod appeared to be a faithful Jew most times, and he did good things for his people, but his most distinguishing mark in Christian history is this incident recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 2.
One year ago today, this examiner published an article entitled “The Second Sin.” http://www.examiner.com/article/the-second-sin It recalled how the second sin after Adam and Eve disobeyed God, was murder, when Cain slew his brother, Abel. The essay reflected on the violence that took place in 2012 especially against children. Has it improved at all?
Our ‘holy innocence’ has been shattered. The violence in other countries that seems to draw Americans in is overshadowed by the deaths we are inflicting on ourselves in our streets and our schools. Senseless acts against children have permeated history, and why not? They are the easiest victims; the killing of a spirit is even more debilitating than killing the body.
Today, on this memorial of innocent children who died, not just in those dark days at Bethlehem, but every time one life has been wasted since, and recalling the missed opportunity for Albuquerque voters to protect life in the womb after twenty weeks, http://www.examiner.com/article/abq-late-term-abortion-ban-fails-to-pass one can only shake his/her head and wonder: are we wholly innocent or just oblivious?