Friday, 28 December 2007

Wholly Innocent

Today, the fourth day of Christmas, the Church remembers an incident recorded in Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus. The evangelist tells us how Herod, warned that a ‘new king of the Jews’ had been born in Bethlehem, gave orders for the massacre of all the boys aged two years or under in and around Bethlehem. The evangelist notes that this is a fulfilment of the words of Jeremiah. Later legend puts the number involved in the thousands, or even in the hundreds of thousands, though it has been estimated that the likely number of boys of that age in a town the size of Bethlehem might have been around twenty.

Scholars doubt the historical accuracy of this story, and we do not need to take it literally to commemorate today all who are wrongly persecuted and betrayed by those who should be protecting them.

The young boys in the story know nothing of Jesus, nor indeed of the politics and powers of this world. They cannot by any stretch of historical or theological imagination be described as Christians. Just babies or toddlers with a few words, they are the epitome of powerlessness and vulnerability, still dependent on others for all their needs. Primarily they depend upon their parents, but secondarily they depend on their neighbours, and on the earthly powers-that-be for protection from the evils and disasters that can strike at any time.

And despite their ignorance of Jesus, the Church has from ancient times commemorated them: a reminder that God’s love is for all; a reminder of the sufferings endured by so many; and a reminder of our responsibilities towards those who depend upon us, and those who are weaker than we are. And a reminder too of the need to hold the powerful to account, and to ensure, so far as we are able, that they too remember their responsibilities to the weak and powerless, and not abuse their power for their own ends.

It is a sad fact that such abuse of power and responsibility not only still exists, but also that it is not just confined to the obviously evil. From terrorists exercising power without responsibility, not caring about the suffering of the innocent, through politicians convinced of the ‘greater good’, to religious leaders who fail to use to the utmost their moral power and influence, we still see connivance, deliberate and thoughtless, in the persecution of those who have every right to expect the protection of the more powerful.

The best way in which we can commemorate this feast today of the Holy Innocents is to speak out against and to work towards the end of the tyranny of evil. Not just this day, but every day.

Posted by Simon Kershaw on Friday, 28 December 2007 at 9:30am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: just thinking

May God bless you Simon, and all those whose remember that God's will and blessings transcend any human manifestation.

Posted by: Cheryl Va. Clough on Friday, 28 December 2007 at 10:09am GMT

Thanks for these reflections, Simon. We have worked hard to encourage people to observe these days after Christmass, although the 'flu has limited my own involvement to listening out, for 'Mr.Herbert's Saints Bell.'
They have also gone some way, for me, to make this site worth looking at again; latterly it seems to be becoming simply been a vehicle for (unjustifed), vicious, mostly anonymous comments about ++Rowan, which does both those posting, and the rightness (or otherwise) of their cause, little credit.

Posted by: Fr.David on Friday, 28 December 2007 at 11:10am GMT

While the moral lesson you and the writer of the current BCP collect draw from today is important, you miss Matthew's point and that of much later devotion. The slaughter points back to that from which Moses is delivered. It introduces Jesus as deliverer and law-giver like Moses.

Later Christians honored the Innocents as baptised in blood and sang of them playing beneath the altar with their martyrs' crowns and palms. No matter what evil persons intend God brings forth great joy.
See also the Friday Morning Prayer collect.
Columba Gilliss

Posted by: Columba Gilliss on Friday, 28 December 2007 at 1:41pm GMT

Amen, Fr. David.

This piece is exactly as I wished it would be. ;)

And happy new year to everyone!

Posted by: Ren Aguila on Friday, 28 December 2007 at 1:47pm GMT

Yes, Simon, I echo the thanks for these late pieces which bring some inspiration into the fray. That these children were NOT Christians inspires me to ponder the wideness of God's mercy.

Posted by: Davis d'Ambly on Friday, 28 December 2007 at 2:26pm GMT

Thank you Simon. They will never get us down.
A happy and safe year to all, and to continue having a Merry Christmas!

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Friday, 28 December 2007 at 3:07pm GMT

It is not perhaps surprising that there is no historical verification of the event, because Nazareth was a very small village, so we are probably talking about six or seven children killed (not the huge gang of children so often portrayed in classical paintings) - consequently. not enough for the national media or record-keepers to make much of it.

Interestingly, according to the 125-50 AD "Protoevangelium of James", Mary hid the baby Jesus in the straw of a stable stall (the "manger" tradition?) so he wasn't found, while God opened a hole in a mountain (John's cave in the desert?) to hide Elizabeth and baby John so they too escaped the killing.

The developing theology of the event is shown in the fact that before Vatican II, universally the vestments for the commemoration were purple (in mourning) and they were then changed to red (for martyrdom).

The fact that the Church Universal commemorates unbaptized (i.e., non-Christian) children formally as "martyrs" (i.e., "saints in heaven") speaks rather clearly about salvation for the unbaptized -- remembering also that, according to biblical record, neither Joseph nor Mary were baptized either, but both are commemorated as "saints" (which was one of the arguments made for the Immaculate Conception - being conceived without sin, Mary supposedly needed no baptism to forgive that weird 4th-5th century idea of Original Sin).

Posted by: John-Julian, OJN on Friday, 28 December 2007 at 3:33pm GMT

While the sanctimony of Fr David and friends reminds me why I dislike Christians as a whole (give me the vicious mud-slinging over po-faced holier-than-thouness anyday), I must add that I too really like these reflections. Much as it pains me to add a positive comment for once, this small homily is particularly inspiring. Thanks, Simon.

Posted by: MRG on Friday, 28 December 2007 at 5:15pm GMT

Perhaps you are right, MRG, and I am just being holier than thou. It's just that, like yourself I'm sure, much of my time in the 'real world' is spent amid the mud-slinging. Even I need to come up for air once in a while. Could be we have a lot in common, criticising that within us we don't understand, or, as JM Barrie puts it, 'never ascribe to an opponent motives meaner than your own.'

Posted by: Fr.David on Friday, 28 December 2007 at 7:30pm GMT
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