The WORD in other words (2022) by Fr Randy Flores SVD – Sacred Heart Parish, Quezon City
Feast of the Holy Innocents / December 28 / Octave of Christmas
Photo by Frater Hubilla / Facebook
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” says the famous opening line of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
Christmas 2020, in the time of the pandemic, was an experience of this paradox. COVID-19 had devasted us; it has nonetheless deepened our faith in God.
The evangelist Matthew presents his story of Christmas also as a paradox. The birth of the Messiah, the Emmanuel (God-with-Us), is the climax of Israel’s salvation history (see the Genealogy). Yet, the story is marred by innocent bloodshed— Herod’s massacre of the infants (the Gospel reading for today).
Herod was a paranoid tyrant. After hearing about the birth of the “king of the Jews,” he was “frightened” (Gk. ETARACHTHĒ). Realizing he was “outsmarted” (Gk. ENEPAICHTHĒ) by the magi, he was “infuriated” (Gk. ETHUMŌTHĒ). The Bethlehem massacre, though the worst, is just one of Herod’s crimes. He had slaughtered his sons. He feared they would steal the crown from him someday. On this, the Roman emperor Augustus once joked in Greek: “It is better to be Herod’s pigs [HUS] than to be son [HUIOS].
Matthew’s account of Herod’s death is a passing note, even if the early Christians would have considered it as a sweet vindication. We go to Josephus for the tragic drama of Herod’s ignominious death. The Roman historian writes that he had gangrene of his private parts that engendered worms and terrible stench, among other strange illnesses that eventually killed him.
Yet Matthew sees to it that his readers would feel that such carnage is evil. It should never happen again. So, he brings to their attention the devastated and inconsolable mothers of the murdered children by quoting the weeping prophet of the Old Testament. In one of his oracles, Prophet Jeremiah used the image of a mother, the matriarch Rachel, as a personified Israel mourning inconsolably over the destruction of Jerusalem in 596 B.C. “A voice was heard in Ramah,” writes Jeremiah and cited by Matthew, “sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more.”
As we read this today, let us remember the many sorrowful mothers who have lost their children due to COVID-19, EJK, and the like.