“They received a message in a dream not to return to Herod.”
Seeking the newborn king, the wise men, for all their wisdom, proved foolish in going to Herod. Perhaps they were just making a logical conclusion – if you’re looking for royalty, you go to the reigning king. Had they done their homework they would have realized the threat this newborn king would be to someone like Herod. It took a revelation to set them on the right path. And a dream from God for them to realize Jesus was never to be found in Herodian palaces.
Herod was in power over Israel at the pleasure of conquering Rome. While most of Israel languished under political, economic, and religious oppression, Herod and a small class of like spirited people had compromised themselves into positions of wealth and privilege. They sold their birthright for a bowl of stew. While Herod was meant to be the spiritual leader of God’s people, his collaboration with the Roman oppressors corrupted his reign. There was very little resemblance between the throne of Herod and the throne of David.
I can understand why people in oppressive, impoverished situations might compromise their convictions; why they might enter into league with the enemy. It is not nice to be hungry. It is not easy to be continually abused. Why, it doesn’t even take an oppressive situation for us to compromise ourselves in order to ensure a life of luxury. And if we can consider ourselves above others in the process, all the better. I must admit to this perversion in my own life. When traveling in Africa and visiting places where remnants of the British Empire remained, it was all too easy for me to imagine what it would be like to be the Great White Man with a whole race of people ready to do my beckon call.
Herod is still very much alive today. We can easily identify him among the privileged class and sometimes even Church leaders who keep quiet about the abuses of oppressive and corrupt governments so that they might curry favor and prestige, so that they might maintain their lives of special treatment. Like Herod they are not totally irreligious. They will do their bit for charity – giving crumbs to the poor. But seek to clearly identify yourself with the newborn king who is cradled among the poor and you become a threat. Yes, some, like the wise men, continue to seek to be with Jesus among the poor. And they pay the price. Like long time human rights advocate Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia of San Cristobal De La Casas who was allegedly threatened with removal by the Vatican Curia under pressure from the Mexican government. As one church worker said, “When I fed the poor you called me a saint. When I sought to end the cause of their hunger you labeled me a Communist.”
Herod is not always as easily identified as in Mexico. We like to point him out when he is far away. But he lives here among us as well, only we don’t want to see him. I too am Herod when I sit in luxury while my brothers and sisters are impoverished. I too am in league with the Roman conquerors when I do not speak out against oppression. Like the wise men, I am in need of a special revelation from God to put me on the path to where Jesus truly lives. And in my deepest consciousness God must warn me not to return to Herod.
Epiphany Is. 60: 1-6; Eph. 3: 2-6; Mt. 2: 1-12
Peace Connections: Making the connection between the Sunday Readings and issues of peace and justice. Copyright 1995, by Thomas L. Garlitz. “Not for profit” permission to reprint granted.