This meditation appeared in the Baptist Times recently. I am imagining what a Teacher of the Law in Jerusalem might have thought about Herod sometime after the massacre of the infants in Bethlehem. I follow it with suggestions for reflection and prayer.
Herod the Great
I turned my back on the Temple and made my way through the crowded streets. It would soon be the Sabbath and I wanted to be in my home long before it started. I had to struggle because there were still visitors gawping up at the Temple walls. I hated the look on their faces. Didn’t they know the cost in human life this building had exacted just because of one man’s desire?
Poor Herod; how he longed to be accepted. How he longed for the early days to return. The crowds would eagerly pour out onto the streets in welcome when he came visiting Jerusalem. Not now. Now they had to be dragged out. Now they had to be bribed or beaten before they would sing his praises. Now there was too much brutality. Too much fear. Too much oppression.
We always expect our rulers to oppress us with their ‘do this’ and ‘do that’, ‘come here’ and ‘go there’. Herod was no different. But now it was too much.
“I will give them my peace”. That’s what he used to say to us when he gathered us to hear our latest interpretation of the scriptures.
“I just want to give them a peace that no one else can give.
My peace. Herod’s Peace.
Peace with Rome. Peace with their army and their emperor. Pax Herod.
I just want them to walk my roads; watch my games; gape at my palaces; respect you readers of the ancient ways and above all worship in the Temple”.
Poor Herod. Peace – there is no peace. We could have told him that. The old prophets knew there was no peace based on the gods of men. But he wouldn’t have listened. When he was young he would laughed at us. Now he would probably have our tongues cut out. Now we say what he wants to hear, even when it might mean death for others.
Poor Herod; he is old and cannot see any future. He has only a past and a legacy to complete. No one must stand between him and how he will be remembered. No matter what their age or how innocent. They go like sheep to the slaughter. They make no sound. And even the tears dry on the cheeks of those who mourn when the shadow of Herod passes by.
He is no fool but he is deluded by power. He knows no Lord but Augustus. He seeks no greater power than his own.
In his book, Make Christmas Real, published in 2014 John Henson wonders where Herod may turn up today. He writes:
“If we were writing a nativity play today and wanted to be up to date, who would we put in the tableau at the back, behind the magicians (Magi)? Would it be one of the world’s current clutch of ruthless dictators? Or would it be a wealthy media mogul, perhaps someone who is controlling the world through print and the television screen? Or is the spirit of Herod something more corporate, something in which many are involved? Herod does not have to send soldiers to kill the children of the world. They die of neglect through poverty, hunger and disease. The Herod who ensures that the asylum seeker continues to be the asylum seeker or sends them back to where they will continue to be persecuted, tortured or killed? Does Herod stand for those within our society who continue to over-indulge themselves, clinging on jealously to their own privileges and advantages, at the expense of others who are excluded from the binge?”
Henson suggests we look out into the world to see the Herods of today. I invite you also to go inward and discover your internal Herods.
They may be the voices and experiences that oppress and control our fears. There might be desires which make us want to control and dominate. We may have needs that want to create a memorial of our time on earth.
It is likely that we have responsibilities which turn us into little dictators of ourselves and others.
- Thanksgiving for peoples who have been liberated from the oppression of cruel leaders
- Concern for the millions who have not been liberated.
This is the final of these meditations. I will ask ‘What happened next?’ to other characters from Luke’s gospel later in the year.