Lectio Divina: The Holy Innocents
Reading: Mt 2:13-18
When the magi had departed, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
"Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt,
and stay there until I tell you.
Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him."
Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night
and departed for Egypt.
He stayed there until the death of Herod,
that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled:
“Out of Egypt I called my son.”
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:
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.
Through the departure of the Magi, this text is connected to four passages that have preceded it regarding the story of their visit. The following context covers a period of many years following the death of Herod and also telling of the return of Joseph, Mary and Jesus to Palestine and their settling down in Nazareth.
The text of the the infancy narrative according to Matthew is contrasted with what appears in the account of the slavery in Egypt and the Exodus. This is a combination of different elements: the name of Joseph which recalls the son of Jacob who went down to Egypt, the massacre of the children, and the return from Egypt.
It is an angel of the Lord who comes to Joseph. He finds himself in danger, and makes the flight into a land that, at that time, was one of the outlets for Hebrew emigration. This warning came in a dream and it points to a particular revelation, perhaps more hidden and requiring deeper consideration. This would again testify to the characteristic wisdom of Mary's spouse. The flight of Joseph, the child, and the mother has a temporal characteristic: it happens at night. We find two Old Testament citations, which throw light on the events being recounted. Hosea and Jeremiah are cited. After the first citation, short and to the point, the scene moves to Herod who orders the systematic killing of the children of Bethlehem and its surroundings. This agrees with other historical sources that describe him as a ruler without scruples, ready to kill even his own children to stay in power. The final Old Testament citation, which is much longer, closes the section. It takes up the lament of the prophet Jeremiah regarding the Assyrian deportation; the Evangelist locates the slaughter that takes place at the very heart of the suffering people of God.
Recalling the experience of exile and slavery of the people of Egypt and their return to their homeland also recalls the Passover of the Hebrews, thus opening the passage to its greater meaning.
Furthermore, the perspective given by the text underlines the accomplishment of the Word of God within human experience, even in those people who are the cruelest.
From this emerges the readiness of God to protect the gift given to humankind throughout history: His own Son. But the Son of God is not preserved from pain, a reason for us to consider the future Easter event. Jesus is saved at this moment so that He can announce the Word in the future in order to give life when the time comes, while the protector is Joseph, a wise man, who knows how to listen (see Mt 1:20 & 2:19) and act accordingly.
Herod accomplishes his slaughter, driven by his fear of losing his power and infuriated by the failure of his attempted deception of the Magi. The text expresses it as if it was he who was deceived, and thus it shows the evil reasoning of power, its arrogance that believes that the one who opposes it is always wrong.
So we are drawn to ask ourselves why God allows all this. Perhaps this question may reveal our involvement: our greed and thirst for power, the roots of cruelty that history experiences in every age. God answers the question regarding the “why of evil", and He does it, not with words, but through incarnation of this in our history, thus establishing a history of salvation.
That is why Easter, with its light, is on the horizon at Christmas.
So that we might learn from and listen to the Word and put it into practice.
For all those who are forced to flee their homeland.
So that we might be aware of the struggles brought about by every form of greed and power seeking, and thus be protected from it.
For all the wounded children of today, the hungry, child-soldiers, the sexually exploited, the sexually abused.
The text invites us to look into history with the eyes of faith, a history God has chosen to be present in, even beyond all our imagining. At the same time, God is inviting us to take responsibility for those who, for different reasons, suffer persecution and displacement.