The slaughter of the Innocent

Holy Innocents 2008                                                                                                                                         Matthew 2:13-23
Marian Free
In the name of God who, in the vulnerability of Jesus, confronts us with the destructive nature of our greed and our desire for power. Amen.
The killing of children to secure a succession or to annihilate the opposition is sadly not unusual. The OT is full of such stories – from the killing of all the male children in Egypt to the wholesale massacre of Ahab’s 70 sons. Nor is such behaviour limited to the distant past. Over the centuries the various Royal families of Britain have been established and destroyed by murder and intrigue as a ruling monarch shored up their position or the usurper ensured that there was no one remaining to threaten his or her authority.
So Herod’s action is not without precedence. In the unstable political climate of his corner of the Empire, everything depended on his maintaining a grip on his power. The report of the birth of a legitimate claimant to his throne created not only a threat to his position, but also brought with it the possibility of civil war. The latter had to be avoided at all costs if Herod’s rule was to retain the support of Rome.  So, according to Matthew, when the wise men did not provide the whereabouts of the new king, Herod’s only choice was to order the killing of all children who fitted the description – that is all boys who had been born in and around Bethlehem in the previous two years. That this involves the slaughter of innocent children is of no concern to him. In Herod’s mind they are expendable, their deaths a necessary expedience to ensure his continued power.
It is easy and comfortable to think that such barbarity belongs to the distant past, but we only have to review the last few years to be reminded that greed and a lust for power continue to wreak havoc on the lives of the innocent. In recent times we only have to think of Dafur, Sierra Leonne and  the Congo  where women are raped and children killed as one group tries to assert its dominance by destroying another. We are regularly reminded of the nations in which children lose their childhood or their lives when turned into soldiers or sacrificed as suicide bombers or simply forced to languish in refugee camps.
Our media constantly reminds us that the darker side of human nature commits horrendous atrocities on others to protect or extend territory, to safeguard or increase wealth, to defend or expand power.
From a distance it is easy to believe ourselves separate and uninvolved. But it is important to remember that the world is made up of complex relationship and that what happens in one place can have ramifications in many. Western nations create so much waste from their more extravagant life-styles that they are continually looking for places to dispose of it. For example, there are children in West Africa who are exposed to poisonous gases on a daily basis, as they search through the carcasses of burning computers in order to find small amounts of copper which they might sell. Our preference for lower priced goods, means in some cases that women and children work for very low wages in sweat shops in third world countries. A desire to protect our exports leads to trade restrictions which limit the ability of other nations to compete and so build their own economies. And so it goes on.
Globalisations means, that now, more than ever before, what we do in this country has the potential to affect others whom we barely know exist. It is a salutary though to realise that we live well, in part because others do not.
Of course the issues are complex and I am not claiming to understand, nor would I dare propose an answer. However, on this day when we remember the slaying of innocent children in order to protect the power and position of a corrupt official, we would do well to remember that we are not without our own flaws and weaknesses, our own needs for power, security and wealth. To understand that our needs impact on our behaviour towards others. To recognise that such needs can blind us to the plight of others. To accept that we may indirectly contribute to the oppression of others. through our thoughtlessness or greed.  As Christians, we are challenged to replace complacency with responsibility and ignorance with knowledge. To try to understand the ways in which our lives make a difference to the lives of others and to try to build on those things which help and to reduce those things which damage.
It is human nature to want to protect what is ours, to seek to secure our well-being and to build a buffer against an uncertain future. In a community – whether it is a family, a neighbourhood, a  nation or the whole world, compromises have to be made so that the needs of one group do not overshadow the needs of another, or worse still, destroy the other.
We are all part of the global village. As followers of Christ, let us do what we can to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. Let us do what we can to make a difference in our neighbourhoods, our nation and in the world.


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