Tuesday, 3 January 2017
Matthew 2:13- end. The massacre of the innocents
Herod was a bad man. The list of people he directly or indirectly put to death is extensive and includes his political opponents, members of the Jewish high court, several judges, his own wife Mariamme, her mother Alexandra, Mariamme's grandfather, his three sons and many other relations. Caesar Augustus famously pointed out, knowing that Herod pretending to be a Jew did not eat pork that it was "better to be Herod's pig than his son." It is then quite consistent with his reputation that should order the massacre of the innocents. Herod was filled with paranoid suspicions and was addicted to the aphrodisiac of power. Thousands of years later we are all too aware that this potent drug still flows among the leaders of the world and too that some of those in power still commit atrocities against their own people. The twentieth and the twenty-first centuries have been extraordinary for this with the events in Syria being only the most recent in the line. Only a week, then, after Jesus' birth we are brought up short, with a big bump and confronted once more with the reality of the evil around us.
There are echoes here of Pharaoh commanding all the Israelite boys to be killed at birth and it may have been Matthew's purpose to highlight the connection between Jesus and Moses, whose infancy is also carefully chronicled and who came to receive and give the Ten Commandments. You recall that Jesus gave us a new one: you shall love one another as you love yourselves.
But maybe for us the important thing is this contrast between the earthly power of kings and other temporal rulers and the true power of God enshrined in the image of a baby lying in a manger and for us at this time the hope that is there. The power that God exercised in sending his son to us, in this sending of himself to show us how we should be is the true glory, power and majesty pointed up by the blackness of Herod's murderous and appalling acts.
The aphrodisiac of power in us is destructive, but the power of God is beautiful. Though the book of Proverbs tells us that money is the root of all evil, surely the true root of all evil is this addiction and love of power. So as we approach this new year, let us pray that we will learn from the example of the humility and love of God that to lead is a privilege and a gift and one that must be treasured, husbanded and used with the utmost love and wisdom.