When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled,
because they are no more. (Matthew 2:16-18 NRSV)
The Gospel According to St. Matthew, that extraordinary movie by Pier Paolo Pasolini, depicts the slaughter of the innocents by Herod by not showing the children. In this scene all we see are running soldiers with swords drawn, and the distraught, wailing mothers. It is a powerful image, exposing the human pain caused by the cruelty of a paranoid tyrant. Why, one may ask, does this horrific event occur in this most joyous of seasons, the remembrance of Christ’s Incarnation?
The answer lies, unfortunately, in the human condition. There are misanthropes who cannot bear to look upon another person’s happiness. There are those who want to control everything in their own and other people’s lives. Then there are completely evil ones, psychopaths, whose reactions to joy and happiness is to bring about their destruction. We know their names all too well: Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin, and Idi Amin, to cite but a few. Often these massacres are carried out, to preserve the purity of the race on the one hand; the elimination of those who profess another religion on the other.
Always, even in the best and most joyous of times, we are confronted by sin. Sin, as YHWH stressed to Cain, “couches at the door; its urge is toward you, yet you can be its master” (Genesis 4:7, JPS Tanakh translation). Cain did not master it and the result was the murder of his innocent brother Abel. Likewise, sin couched at Herod’s door and by this time he was so desensitized to murder that the result was the even more horrific murder of innumerable innocent babies and toddlers.
In the end people of faith are left to grieve with Rachel and with God over this fallen state of affairs and stitch together what solace we can in the knowledge that a little despot may occupy his thrown for a little while — but the Christ-child escapes every time. God’s will for redemption and God gift of grace, in the end, always outlasts and outwits the tyranny Herod.
Deliver us, O Lord, through the grace of your only begotten Son, from the bondage of sin and death. Grant us the strength to walk in your ways, which are the ways of wholeness and life. Make us channels of your peace and love that your Light may be seen and glorified by all, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.