The story of the Holy Innocents originates in the time of Herod, or as he was sometimes called “the Great Herod.” In his younger years, he was a skillful administrator who lived a balancing act between the Romans and the people of Judea. He was able to undertake and accomplish large building projects, including a harbor on the Mediterranean. In contrast, during his lifetime, he had ten wives and several sons. While his political savvy was considerable, his home life was a growing disaster. His sons grew up competing with each other for the future throne. Herod killed three of his sons, put to death one of his wives and one of his mothers-in-law, and some cousins. At one point he planned to fill an entire stadium (the Hippodrome ) with Jews and put them to death. As Herod aged, he became increasingly paranoid and removed from reality. He struggled with several illnesses, all the while afraid no one would mourn his death.
Herod learned about the birth of a future king from Wise Men traveling from the East. Deceitfully, he told them that he wanted to know the location of the child so that he, too, could come and celebrate the royal birth. The wise men, however, were warned by an angel to depart by another way, after worshipping the baby Jesus. They never returned to Herod, which infuriated him. In his rage, Herod ordered that all male children two years and younger be slaughtered in Bethlehem and “in all the region.”
Scholars have argued about the number of murdered infants; some traditions say hundreds and some thousands, perhaps between ten and twenty, by estimating the population in the area. Whatever the number, the helpless infants became the first martyrs.
Afterward, Herod became completely paranoid in his determination to hold on to his throne. Even his own family were not safe. His jealousy ruled him and eliminated anyone and anything he perceived as a threat.
We could take a look around the world today and see any number of leaders who have acted in similar ways. We see dictators and regimes, where killings and poisonings occur.
It’s easy to scan the surface of world politics. But what about our personal politics? How do we move and function in the group of people with whom we live and work? What are the ways we hold on to a particular position, or territory, or a certain way of performing our duties? How many innocents fall prey to our tyranny? I think of Jesus, who laid down His rightful claim as the Son of God, born as a helpless baby into our hands. He did not hold on but let go so that God’s promises might be fulfilled.
To the thousands of innocents who gave their lives, tiny peacemakers, soldiers of righteousness, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Matthew 5:8