Matthew 2:1-18 tells this story: Herod was "greatly troubled" when astrologers from the east came asking the whereabouts of the "newborn king of the Jews," whose star they had seen. They were told that the Jewish Scriptures named Bethlehem as the place where the Messiah wold be born. Herod cunningly told them to report back to him so that he could also "do him homage." They found Jesus, offered him their gifts and warned by an angel, avoided Herod on their way home. Jesus escaped to Egypt.
Herod became furious and "ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under." The horror of the massacre and the devastation of the mothers and fathers led Matthew to quote Jeremiah: "A voice was heard in Ramah,/sobbing and loud lamentation;/Rachel weeping for her children..." (Matthew 2:18). Rachel was the wife of Jacob/Israel. She is pictured as weeping at the place where the Israelites were herded together by the conquering Assyrians for their march into captivity.
(The above was excerpted from Ibreviary, December 28, 2011)
Isnt' it strange how history repeats itself? The names and circumstances are a little different but the image we witness from antiquity is eerily similar to the present day slaughter of the innocents that Pope John Paul II coined as the "culture of death". The Israelites demanded a leader to respond to their every whim and need and they got a "herod". They demanded a liberty of convenience to relieve them of their responsiblity to integrity and they got bondage. They demanded a relief to fear and insecurity and they got tyranny and death.
True for us. We have mistaken human figures for God; we call this government. We demand and expect our needs to be met through government programs and services. We have learned that the more "choices" we get, the less free and more savage we become. We demand the pleasure of sex over its consequences and the convenience of intimacy over the responsibilities that it entails. We fail to realize that the fruits of sex and and intimacy involve life. And the very best place where life can flourish is in the protected environs of a family. So when we want one without the other, chaos and disorder follow.
Most women who I meet who have had abortions, regret them later. They may have demanded a relief to their fear and insecurity which they experienced temporarily in an abortion. Unfortunately the tyranny that arises some time later results in great anguish for the woman who has tried to suppress her conscience either by drinking, drugging, eating, spending, working or escaping into some fantasy world. The "herod" of addiction is a brutal tyrant to those who would refuse to face the friend in their conscience.
There are personal herods and societal herods as well. The society that employs these herods fosters this bondage when we continue to make it okay for people to escape the consequences of reality. Obamacare, divorce, mortgage bailouts, capitol punishment, gluttonous and irresponsible overspending, euthanasia, abortion, moral relativism; the realm of evils left untended and not remanded to the custody of the human conscience will not find a Robin Hood or his merry men to save them in the end. Hopefully when the conscience is aroused there will still be time for an epiphany of repentance. Will it be in time?
I was struck by the words fear and insecurity that were used to describe the Herod of antiquity. Here is this powerful guy enabled by a dysfunctional societal system that has left him to his own devices, and he is so scared and insecure of being relieved of his addiction (power) that he is willing to kill family members and helpless infants. Stew on that for awhile. If you've ever seen an addict, you know that they are mostly willing to go to any length to ensure that they get their "fix". While the addiction is active, precious little is safe. Keep this in mind as we elect or re-elect a powerful leader in 2012.
And how about closer to home? Don't we all have some herods to tend to in our own life? Are you in charge of you or is something else driving the bus? Is the desire for power and control mastering you? Yes, there is an addiction to power and control and it's one of hell's ugliest demons. Just watch Lord of the Rings or read Genesis Ch 3 if you don't believe me.
The slaughter of the innocents was a result of fear, insecurity and a paralyzed personal and societal conscience. May we take the necessary efforts at home, interiorly, and abroad, in our communities to ensure that these tyrants are chained and muzzled. When we take care to do this, perhaps we are enacting the 149th Psalm where the two-edged sword is put to use on our personal and societal herods:
"Let the praise of God be on their lips and a two-edged sword in their hand,
to deal out vengeance to the nations and punishment on all the peoples;
to bind their kings in chains and their nobles in fetters of iron;
to carry out the sentence pre-ordained;
this honor is for all his faithful."