Aloha Friday Message – December 28, 2012 – An End to Innocents

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Read it online here, please.

Matthew 2:16-18When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet: A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more.

This is the last Friday of 2012, and the last Aloha Friday message of the year. It is also the Feast of the Holy Innocents, a recollection of the murder of young male children and youths. Some ancient sources place the number of lives lost at many thousands – 64,000 or even 144,000 – but that seems unlike as Bethlehem was a pretty small town at the time of Jesus’ birth. Many scholars now scale that number down to a more likely number – two dozen or less. There is no way of knowing exactly when the Magi came and went, and therefore no way to fix a date for this murderous campaign against children. Even the geography is sketchy – “Bethlehem and its vicinity.”

There were two places in Israel named Bethlehem (Beit Lehem לֶ֣חֶםבֵּֽית־ which means “House of Bread”). One was in the northern part of the country, and the other – referred to in the Old Testament as “Bethlehem Ephrathah (אֶפְרָ֗תָה לֶ֣חֶםבֵּֽית־ – Ephrathah is the personal name “Fruitful”)” was in the southern part and very close to Jerusalem. It was this Bethlehem toward which Jacob and Rachel were traveling after leaving Bethel (אֵ֖לבֵֽית־, The House of God), and in that vicinity Rachel died giving birth to her second son Benoni (“Child of My Suffering) but his father renamed him Benjamin (בִנְיָמִֽין׃ – “My Favorite,” or “My Right Hand.”) The word Ephrathah appears only in the Old Testament and in only in Genesis (35:16,19; 48:7), Ruth 1:2 (Bethlehem-Judah’s citizens were called “Ephratites.”), and of course Micah 5:2

Rachel is the archetypical matriarch of the Children of Israel just as her husband, Jacob/Israel is the archetypical patriarch. She becomes the personification of the Nation of Israel and weeps to see her children hauled off to Babylon, to be overrun and defeated so often, and to be subjugated to seemingly endless indignities. Her grief is particularly heartbreaking because she had waited so long to have children and then died in the process of delivering her second son. Ironically she had said to Jacob, “Give me children or I shall die!” (See Genesis 30:1-8)

Traditionally, the town of Ramah is named as the place of Rachel’s tomb (1 Samuel 10:2). It was/is about 5 miles north of Jerusalem on the West Bank. Rachel and Jacob were immensely in love with each other and ended up waiting 14 years just to get married, then several years more waiting for children to be born. Rachel’s sister, Leah, was given first to Jacob by their father Laban. Leah persecuted and mocked Rachel because she was childless. Rachel finally had her maidservant, Bilhah, become a surrogate mother for her. Bilhah bore two children – Dan and Naphtali. In a sort of pay-back, Leah offers Jacob her maidservant, Zilpah, who then also bears two children – whom she named Gad and Asher. Finally, after many more years of waiting, Rachel is able to conceive and bear a son – Joseph. This Joseph was the one sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. He eventually became the most powerful many in Egypt after Pharaoh. You will recall that when famine struck the land, Joseph brought all of Jacob’s (remember, by now Jacob had earned the name Israel) children where they settled in the Land of Goshen – a fertile and stable area east of the Nile and north of Cairo.

Bringing all of this background together, this day commemorating the heinous act of Herod is a reminder of the connectedness of the Bible. It calls to mind the rescue of Moses at the time when the Pharaoh had ordered all male children of the Hebrews killed. We can also see that the shedding of blood by other innocents actually protected and saved the life of Jesus, possibly a toddler at the time, or even still just an infant as we might imagine it. Recall that by the time the Magi came, and therefore at about the same time as the massacre, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were in a house, not in the stable at the inn. It is difficult to discern exactly where and when all this took place; we assume Bethlehem and probably just around 40 days after Jesus birth because his parents took him to Jerusalem after Mary’s 40 days of purification were done. Herod was a particularly brutal man who would stop at nothing, even executing his own children, to protect his power and his throne. That he would willingly have innocent infants murdered is not at all out of character. Yet, he did show constraint; only male children aged two and under were murdered.

We may wonder why the life history of the Christ began with a massacre and a daring escape to the land of Egypt – perhaps even to the land of Goshen? – and we may speculate about how such things are God’s will. For some of us, this horrific event strengthens our resolve the preserve the sanctity of all life from conception to natural death. For others, we may be reminded of the recent horrible incident in New Town, and wonder if it is a portent for this present age. For some, the senseless murder of children is a foreshadowing of the suffering of the church for the spread of the Gospel, something which Jesus himself predicted. Remember that Herod was expecting the Magi to return to him and tell him where Jesus was. With that knowledge, he could have just had Jesus executed quickly and quietly; but, because the Magi did not supply him with that information he felt compelled to cast a wider net to ensure he “caught” Jesus and his family.

And so it came to pass that the prophecy of Jeremiah had been fulfilled in the actions of Herod. The life of the child Jesus was spared because Herod could be reasonably certain he had “solved” his problem. All the pieces of all the prophecies about the Messiah would eventually fall into place until Jesus endured his Passion, death, and Resurrection. In just a few days we will remember his Epiphany – the revelation to the world the Jesus is the human Son of God. In the Western churches, that would be the day the Magi (representing the gentiles) visited Jesus. In the Eastern Rite Churches, that would be the day John baptized Jesus in the Jordan at which time God proclaimed him to be his own Son. Whichever even you have in your heart and mind on January 6th, remember that the Messiah has been revealed to you in Scripture, and you have the opportunity to reveal him to others in your own life.

Indeed, Joy to the world! The LORD is come!

Whatever, whenever, wherever, whoever, however, if ever, forever — at your service, Beloved.

 

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About Chick Todd

American Roman Catholic reared as a "Baptiterian" in Denver Colorado.

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