28 December 2022, is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, on which we remember the
massacre of the innocents recorded in Matthew chapter 2.
his Gospel, Matthew presents Jesus as the Son (descendant, heir) of David. Matthew
groups Jesus’ teachings into five blocks, and it has often been noted that this
is a nod to the Five Books of Moses, Jesus the New Law Giver; but it is surely
also a nod to the five books that make up the library of the Psalms.
is loved by God, but that doesn’t stop him from doing terrible things. Among
them, David rapes Bathsheba, then, when she is found to be with child, has her
husband, who is away fighting one of David’s wars, murdered to cover his
tracks. The child dies, but Bathsheba refuses to be discarded: first, David will
take her as his queen, relegating his other wives; then, later, David will name
their son Solomon his heir, even though Solomon is nowhere near the head of the
line of succession.
Jesus, Son of David, is born, another king is on the throne in Jerusalem, the
pretender, Herod the Great. Herod, also, has issues with his issue. Not long
before his own death, Herod had his firstborn son and heir, Antipater II,
executed, having already had two sons by his second wife executed some years
earlier. On his death, his territory was mostly divided between two sons by his
fourth wife and a son by his fifth wife (Herod’s sister also being given a few
records that Herod, on hearing news of a son born in Bethlehem and being
proclaimed David’s rightful heir, ordered that every boy who fell,
give-or-take, within the spatial parameters of Bethlehem and the temporal parameters
of two-years-old, be killed. Thus, we are told, the wailing lament of Rachel
for her lost children (Jeremiah 31:15) is fulfilled. But the lament the
Lord speaks of through Jeremiah is the lament of exiled youth, met with the
promise of a return from exile. The fulfilment is not Herod’s paranoia but in
the exile of the holy family to Egypt and the promise that they will return.
Not even Herod and his heirs can prevent this work of God’s grace.
in God’s selfless goodness makes human selfish wickedness okay. There is a
field of darkness that encompasses the hero as much as the villain, a part of
all our stories, if not the whole story. But there is a light shining in the darkness,
and the darkness cannot grasp it with evil intent, cannot extinguish it. Seal
it in a tomb, and it will burst out, ablaze.
have questioned the historicity of the massacre of the innocents, but history
knows better than to doubt. There have been, and remain, countless children killed
before their rightful time to die, through our negligence, our weakness, our
own deliberate fault, in the wrong we have done and the good we have failed to
do. This is a tragedy. And if death was the final word, an utter waste. But despite
the tragedy of life, death is not the final word. Today is the Feast of the
Holy Innocents, a bitter-sweet day no doubt, and yet a day in which all that
was intended for harm is caught up in goodness, where every tear of pain is washed
away with tears of joy. Where mothers and sons are reunited, and all wrongs
has loved us with an everlasting love. So come to the table of the future, set for
us in the present. This night is the fifth night of Christmas. Let us raise a
glass to the children.