St. Matthew 2:16-18
One of the most tragic incidents mentioned in the bible and that too in very few words, is the killing (cold blooded murder) of children two years and below in and around Bethlehem by Herod. The usual reaction to the story is wondering about the cruelty of Herod and about why the birth of Jesus led to the killing of several babies and how justified is such a birth of the savior of the world. It has parallels to the saying “mother killer” when a birth of a baby leads to the death of the mother due to some birth complication.
The association comes for many people and the more one thinks about it, the more one is perplexed by the association of how this can happen. This association is what prevents us from raising our voice and doing good. We think that if we say something and that leads to something happening to someone, that we are responsible for that. It is though a very naïve understanding of the situation. We have to sometimes say things for the common good and for the benefit of society. We are not opposing a person but the evil in a person which even he/she may or may not be aware of.
Herod was a leader and the birth of Jesus needn’t have bothered him too much. Yet he is surprisingly rattled. The birth of a baby upsets him! This also makes us think what kind of a leader he was. But what he ends up doing through the murder of innocent children is that he reiterates that he is inherently evil. So who was the reason of the deaths? Herod or Jesus? Many a time we think that if not for Jesus the children would not have died.
One must come out of the understanding that Jesus was responsible for the death of the children. There was only one planner and executioner and that was Herod and perhaps his advisors. If we do not accept this, many of us will step back from doing any good because we will think that others will be sacrificed in the process of what we are going to do. The thought is always “I can sacrifice whatever but why should others be affected?” This thinking is not helpful because it will prevent us from doing any good even though we are capable of it. The celebration of Christmas and the time which follows up to new year will be like this. It is a time to not just remember the birth of Christ, but to do what he did. In the process we are bound to ruffle feathers, bring discomfort to others and be a thorn in the flesh to many. This is why we must understand that celebration and dejection go hand in hand. There was wailing and sadness in Ramah and mothers were crying because they had lost their young ones. But we need to cry only if Jesus lead to the death of the children. Contrary to this he did not. It was Herod who had planned and implemented this. Jesus was only a ploy he used.
There are many leaders who do likewise. Someone else is made out to be the reason of a cruel decision. It appears so in the case of the death of the young here as well. But that is where we err and we must know that the birth of Jesus leads to the birth of courage and expression of views and opinions in a culture that cannot express itself. The murder of the babies is the cowardice of Herod and nothing else. The women wailing are made to think that the reason is something/someone else. But as soon as they would have known who the conspirator was, they would have stopped crying because the children died cruelly at the hands of a dictator.
Civil wars rife in Syria and Iraq and international conflicts like in the case of Israel and Palestine and internal conflicts in many parts of the world all lead to genocide and the brutal killing of children. The killers will always say that it happened because of some rebels and external forces. The truth though is that it happens because the regime wants to quell dissent in various forms. The killing of the babies by Herod reminds us of the danger of regimes who will justify their actions and use religious symbolisms to say that they are right. The killing of the children instead should remind us of the birth of Jesus who went against the shrewdness and injustice of repressive regimes and instead stood with the people and fought for life and human dignity.
The birth of Jesus is not a time to cry but a time to raise our heads and question countries and dispensations that are anti people and oppress people. The people of Syria and Palestine among many other countries deserve to have access to their mother land and live a life of dignity there. We must not allow the creation and continuance of Herod like figures who use the birth as an excuse to take life instead of encouraging life and dignity. The innocent children died a violent death due to such sinful characters and this should not continue to happen during the commemoration of Jesus’ birth narrative.