Herod, king when Jesus was born, is told by wise men from the East that there is a child born king of the Jews whose star they have been following. To eliminate the threat this child poses, King Herod has all boys under age two killed. But Jesus escapes because Joseph had been warned in a dream to take his family to Egypt.
This story has many parallels with the story of Moses, who led the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt, and points to Jesus as a new liberator. But the story also kicks up some deep and perplexing questions. What about all those children who were killed, and what about their families? Why weren’t they saved? Where was God? Did God abandon them?
How can I say that God healed me when so many people are not healed? Does God listen? Does God really intervene? Does God play favorites? Can God be trusted? Do these hard things mean that God doesn’t exist, or that God doesn’t care?
This Bible story doesn’t give answers to these questions but it does point. In the gospel story, the death of the children does not go ignored. Matthew includes a very powerful quotation from Jeremiah about Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be consoled. The death of children did not and does not go unheard. In the Roman Catholic Church there is a feast day on December 28 memorializing Herod’s victims—the feast of the Holy Innocents.
When children are killed today, there is outcry. On September 15, 1963, four school-age African-American girls were killed in a bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. People knew this was wrong. It became a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement, and it contributed to support for passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. When on December 14, 2012, twenty children were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a pall lay over the country. Their story is not forgotten.
What I particularly value is that Matthew’s account makes clear that the God the Bible talks about is not one who prevents bad things from happening even to people who love God. God intervenes in human lives but not always and not predictably. God is mystery; God’s ways are beyond our human comprehension. What I know experientially is that God is, God acts, God communicates, and God is available—regardless of outward circumstances.
Under what circumstances have you questioned God? What is it to trust God?
What groups of young people suffering call for your care?
You who are beyond our comprehension but not beyond caring, help us notice the children who are being wounded by the circumstances of our world and let us be heard wailing and in loud lamentation.
For further reference:
“Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them. . . . (See Exodus 1: 8 – 2: 10).
“When Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick” (See Matthew 14: 13-21).