It’s the Feast of the Holy Innocents, a troubling “feast” if there ever was one.
How is it that this horrid event is not cited elsewhere in non-biblical literature? Maybe it never happened. Why would God, who engineered his own Son’s escape, not do something for all those other children in Bethlehem? Who wants a God like that? Luke’s infancy narrative knows nothing of this event. Was he wrong? Was Matthew? In any case, how can we call the slaughter of toddlers and infants a feast?
Whether the event, as described by Matthew, happened or not, the fact remains that Bethlehem was not a large town. I don’t know what its size would have been in Jesus’ day, but certainly not over 500 or so. There would not have been a large number of infants and toddlers. Their slaughter by the notoriously blood thirsty Herod, whose record of killing enemies, friends and family knew no bounds, might not have even been noticed.
As gruesome as the story is in itself, it should also remind us that within the freedom God has given us is the freedom to act in the most despicable of evil ways. It should call to mind our own culpability in the slaughtering of innocents today through domestic violence; sexual, psychological and physical abuse; the horrors of child soldiers molded into amoral killing machines by ruthless adults; withholding of necessary and available health care from those in need; and so it goes.
We cannot blame God for what Herod did any more than we can blame God for what we have done, or been tolerant of. We can be thankful that not even the evil darkness of Herod’s violence could overcome the light of Christ, infant though he was. From that flickering infant light has grown a greater light of triumph over all death. If, on the one hand, we have shared some degree of complicity in the slaughter of innocents, with the other hand we are given the opportunity to witness to that greater light through the words and deeds of our lives.
I wonder what that would mean for ordinary Christians leading ordinary lives of relative comfort and safety?