Life, Death, and Choices

Last week’s Gospel reading, Matthew 2:112, ends with a sort of cliffhanger. “Magi from the east” arrived in Bethlehem, found our Lord’s house, and paid their respects:

“They were overjoyed at seeing the star,
5 and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
“And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.”
(Matthew 2:1012)

Or maybe not so much — we read Matthew 2:1318 on December 28. I don’t suppose we’ll see the massacre of the innocents1 in an animated Christmas special any time soon. It’s far from the most cheerful parts of the Bible.

That didn’t keep folks in Coventry from including it in their Shearmen and Tailors’ Pageant. We got “Coventry Carol” from that mystery play.2

Rachel Wept

Herod the Great3 liked being in charge, even if it was as a Roman vassal. He wasn’t about to let some upstart take the job.

“When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.
“Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:
9 ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more.'”
(Matthew 2:1618)

Herod’s massacre most likely wasn’t a large-scale slaughter, like what happened in and around Srebrenica in 1995. Only about 1,000 folks called Bethlehem home in his day. There wouldn’t have been more than maybe 20 boys age two or under.

That’s still a lot of dead kids, particularly from the parents’ viewpoint.

Their deaths didn’t make it into Herodian records. Herod the Great had so many “important” folks killed, I’m not surprised that taking out a few low-status boys in a Podunk town got lost in the shuffle.4

Our Lord had left Bethlehem by then. An angel ordered Joseph to get Mary and Jesus to Egypt ASAP: which he did. (Matthew 2:1314)

Like I said, this probably wasn’t how Joseph imagined family life, back when he and Mary got betrothed. (December 25, 2016)

Shepherds, Magi, and Herod

I get the impression that folks generally weren’t apathetic about our Lord.

The shepherds glorified and praised God for what they’d seen heard and seen. (Luke 2:20)

The magi “…prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then … offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh….” Herod had Bethlehem’s youngest boys killed. (Matthew 2:11, 16)

Let’s look at who — and what — Jesus is.

1 For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.”
(Isaiah 9:5)

5 Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, Meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass.”
(Zechariah 9:9)

24 Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.'”
(John 8:58)

The shepherds and magi didn’t see the big picture. Neither do I, for that matter.

God’s God, I’m not. I can’t fully understand the Almighty and our Lord’s decisions. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 230, 268274)

I suppose Herod could have seen the “newborn king” as the Messiah, and started planning for an early retirement. Instead, he decided to commit mass murder.

That’s a bad idea, by the way, no matter who the victims are. (January 11, 2017)

Free Will, Toy Monkeys

We could have hardwired responses to God’s presence, like toy monkeys that celebrate at the flip of a switch.

Instead, we’ve got a desire for God — a ‘God-shaped hole’ — in our hearts. We can try filling the hole by pursuing truth. If we do it right, that’ll lead us to God. We can also try ignoring it, which is a bad idea. (Catechism, 2738)

Either way, we decide what we do.

We are rational creatures, made “in the divine image.” (Genesis 1:27; Catechism, 355357, 1702, 1738)

We can make reasoned choices. Or we can decide to let our emotions and whims guide us: which is also a decision. Either way, we make choices; and are responsible for the consequences. (Catechism, 17301742, 1778, 1784, 1790)

We can decide that our career, entertainment, or some other short-term goal, is more important than eternal happiness with God. That’s a really bad idea, but it is an option. (Catechism, 10201037)

Humanity’s been making decisions — good, bad, and disastrous — for a long time, so thinking straight sometimes isn’t easy. And that’s another topic. (Catechism, 385412, 1735, 17901793)

The Light Still Shines in the Darkness

Jesus, Joseph, and Mary, stayed in Egypt until Herod the Great died.

Mary’s home town, Nazareth, seemed safer than Judea, so they settled there. (Matthew 2:1923)

Our Lord grew up, ran into trouble with Jerusalem’s elite, again, was executed and buried in a borrowed tomb.

Jesus stopped being dead few days later.

And that’s yet another topic.

3 All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be
“through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race;
4 the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
(John 1:35)

More about life, death, love, and all that:

1 Following the Prince of Peace isn’t easy:

2 Wikimedia Commons has an excellent recording of the U.S. Army Band singing “Coventry Carol:”… U.S._Army_Band_-_Coventry_Carol.ogg.

3 Ken Spino called Herod the Great “a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis.” (2010) Herod apparently didn’t kill off the entire family, since two sons took over after his death. The name got recycled a several times:

4 Herod’s legacy:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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