One more mad man in History – Feast of the Holy Innocents – Matthew 2:13-18

One more mad man in History – Feast of the Holy Innocents – Matthew 2:13-18

Joy at the birth of Christ is short-lived. After the stoning of Stephen there is more violence in this octave of Christmas. This is a painful gospel. What difficult news the angel brings: Joseph and his tiny family have to become refugees and go by night to a foreign land to say nothing of the slaughter of innocent children. The massacre of the innocents was the first clash of religion and politics in Christian history. Herod made the mistake of thinking that Jesus the King was a threat to his kingdom.

History records many evil men. You would be able to compile a list of their names as easily as I can, and your list would probably have some of the same names; Hitler, Osama Bin Laden, Sadam Hussein, Mussolini, Stalin and Herod, just to name a few. All of these men were mass murders. Herod as you will see was one of the worst, because children were his victims.

In 43 BC Herod’s father was assassinated by a threatened family member, and Herod and his brother were captured. After being captured, the brother committed suicide, but Herod managed to escape and flee to Rome. Then in 37 BC the Roman Senate appointed him “King of the Jews.” So, Herod returned to Palestine, raised up an army, and defeated his father’s assassin in battle. Herod’s rule of 33 years was a turbulent one.

Herod was an extremely jealous ruler and his paranoia was legendary. One of his ten wives had a brother who was the high priest. Herod felt threatened by this brother-in-law of his, so he murdered him. Then he killed his wife, too. At one point, he was afraid of a plot against him by two of his sons, so he murdered both of them. He was a brutal, merciless man. So, it’s no wonder that Matthew tells us that Herod was “deeply disturbed” when he learned that a child had been born who was being called “King of the Jews.”

Jeremiah the prophet spoke about Herod’s great atrocity hundreds of years before it happened, “This is what the Lord says: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.’” (Jeremiah 31:15). Bethlehem was not the only target. Ramah is about as far north of Jerusalem as Bethlehem is south, about 25 miles. You can imagine Herod commanding the solders to kill all the boys that are two years old and younger. When the solders asked, “Where do you want us to begin,” Herod may have said, “Just draw a circle around Jerusalem with a radius that goes as far south as Bethlehem and as far north as Ramah.” He was a madman. The cross looms from the outset. Jesus is a hunted child. Mary, Joseph and Jesus must flee the wrath and brutal response of a cruel ruler who has been duped by the Magi.

Why would the angel instruct Joseph to take Jesus and Mary to Egypt? Why Egypt, which was at least an 80-mile trek from Bethlehem? For one, there was a large Jewish refugee community in Alexandria, Egypt. There were about 1 million Jews living in Alexandria. Another reason is because Egypt was outside the jurisdiction of Herod, so they would be immediately safe once they entered Egypt. But there’s another reason here—a much bigger reason—one that reaches back in time over 1,000 years prior to Jesus.

Notice that Matthew is quoting an Old Testament prophecy here. In verse 15, Matthew is quoting from the prophet Hosea, and in that particular context Hosea is talking about God’s deliverance of His people from slavery in Egypt—what we call the Exodus. That was when the Israelites were in slavery in Egypt for 400 years, and they were led by Moses and miraculously delivered from the hands of the Egyptians at the Red Sea. In light of this context, then, what Matthew wants us to know is that when Jesus and His family flee to Egypt and then later return from Egypt, Jesus was inaugurating a new exodus. That Joseph had to take his family and flee to Egypt was about much more than just running away from Herod—this was about fulfilling prophecy. Just as Israel was God’s son, brought out of Egypt, what Matthew wants us to see here is that Jesus is God’s Son, being brought out of Egypt.   

As a child Jesus was already a sign of contradiction – some accepted him but others rejected him. The wise men came from afar to pay homage and referred to him as King of the Jews. As a king, he was a threat to Herod who saw his kingdom as being under threat. The prophetic dimension of Jesus’ life was there from the beginning. His kingdom would be of a different kind. For Herod, Jesus was an inconvenience and a threat.  

 While it is heart-breaking to imagine the slaughter of these children, the ‘Holy Innocents’ our sense of pain for them can stir us now to do what we can for the suffering children of our world. In this way, the hideous suffering of the Innocents becomes an occasion of grace two thousand years on.

Spread the love ♥

You might also like

One thought on “One more mad man in History – Feast of the Holy Innocents – Matthew 2:13-18”

  • It was heartbreaking then to see the innocent children being massacred but today it gets even worse when the modern world finds it difficult to comprehend and refuses to accept that abortion is murder.
    Thank you Father for a touching reflection.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *