THE LITTLE MARTYRS OF BETLEHEM
(A biblical reflection on the Feast of THE HOLY INNOCENTS, Martyrs, 28 December 2011)
Gospel Reading: Mt 2:13-18
First Reading: 1Jn 1:5-2:2; Psalms: Ps 124:2-5,7-8
The Scripture Text
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the Child and His mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the Child, to destroy Him.” And he rose and took the Child and His mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt have I called My son.”
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Betlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men, then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more.” (Mt 2:13-18 RSV)
Why did Herod react with such rage at the news of the new born king of the Jews (Mt 2:1-3,16)? Surely he knew that all Israellonged for the fulfilment of the messianic prophesies. God had promised a Messiah who would free His people from tyranny and oppression. But Herod was more interested in advancing his own power and prestige than he was in securing the welfare of the subjects. Herod was both a tyrant and a collaborator with the pagan Roman government for whom he worked. It is not surprising, then, that Herod felt threatened by the birth of one rumoured to be the new king of the Jews (Mt 2:2). He was afraid of losing his kingdom to someone else. To destroy one child, Herod did not hesitate to command the deaths of many. He murdered all the infant boys in Betlehem, because he could tolerate no rivals to the throne of his kingdom or the throne of his heart. He destroyed weak and defenceless children because fear has destroyed his own heart. To prolong his own life, he tried to kill Life itself.
It is indeed a very sad thing, that he treasured things such as political power and wealth to the degree that he could not perceive the value of something much greater – the promise of a share in God’s divine life. Herod’s lust for power, honor, and pleasure had corrupted his heart and made him cold toward God and his neighbor.
Herod undoubtedly considered himself to be a powerful, wealthy man, and that is how he seemed to most people. But in fact he was a slave to his fallen desires and a victim of fear and self-concern. Herod could not receive what God wanted to give him through the coming of His Son because he could not bear the thought of losing anything he had.
Jesus came to free us from the grip of sin and hurtful desires. He offers us instead an eternal kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. To receive that kingdom, we must relinquish anything that keeps us from surrendering our lives to Him, our true King. The treasure He offers far outweighs any treasure of this world. Let us, then, ask the Lord to show us any lesser loves that might be interfering with our surrendering our lives freely to Him. Let us eagerly receive all that He offers us.
Short Prayer: Heavenly Father, the Holy Innocents bore witness to you not by speaking but by dying: grant that the faith we proclaim in words, may be borne out by deed. We make our prayer in the most precious name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
Jakarta, 26 December 2011 [Feast of Saint Stephen, The First Martyr]
A Christian Pilgrim