Friday, January 02, 2015
Such is the melodrama of our Gospel reading for this second Sunday of Christmas. It doesn’t take much imagination or moral training to see that a wretched old king trying to kill babies is worthy of our boos, hisses, and condemnation.
Matthew makes it very easy to see how wicked Herod is, but might it not have been possible to make a case for Herod’s actions? Could we write a different script that made the threat of a newborn child so real that Herod would be seen as the hero, saving the world from a revolutionary zealot intent on destroying the world of law and order and proper authority?
Matthew anticipates this change in the script. By the end of the Gospel, Jesus is judged to be a threat to the existing way of doing things by the lawful authority of Rome or any other nation or Empire whose power and violence make their authority "legal" or “righteous.” Herod’s fear of being usurped has come full circle. Herod was simply a bit player in the larger drama or melodrama of planet earth.
Matthew gives us an opportunity to feel righteous and in the know right at the beginning of his gospel. But, by the time Jesus is betrayed, arrested, tried, and found guilty, we see the disciples abandon him. Their moral certitude was shaken. Perhaps Herod was right. Perhaps they were wrong. Perhaps all was lost.
The Gospel of Matthew was written to reveal how very blind we are when we claim moral certitude and superiority. As much as we love to boo the villain and cheer for the hero, the cross of Jesus exposes how morally fickle we are. It is not Herod or the High Priests or the Pharisees or any other identified bad guy in our world that is revealed as evil, but the
uncomfortable and shameful belief that might makes right.
Matthew shows this belief in the actions of Herod and then proceeds to uncover our own complicity with this belief through the morally self-righteous characters who have completely lost their way as they stretch out their accusing fingers towards the infant and the adult Jesus in the story we call “The Good News.”
And there is always collateral damage when what is right and the authority of our world is defined by the might of violence which then define it and defend it. Matthew tells us about the slaughter of the Holy Innocence--children executed under the color of authority. That Jesus escaped this mass execution is simply a delay. Herod, acting to end a threat to his rule, is the clear express of political expediency that demands death of those who would challenge it. In the uncovering of the system of sin and death this belief in violence continues to be exposed with every child whose blood cries from the earth.
As our ancient primordial parents grieved the loss of both of their first born children to the unmastered sin of might makes right, so Jesus’ mother experienced that same sorrow at the violent death of her son done under the cover of authority.
It is no longer time to indulge in melodrama, but to be relieved of such illusions by the passion story of God's power of love and forgiveness.