This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

December 28 -- Feast of the Holy Innocents

As imagined by Pietro Lorenzetti
The second chapter of Matthew relates the story of the Magi, the priests from the East who followed a star that led them to Jesus. Matthew doesn't say anything about mangers or shepherds.  That's Luke.  Mark and John don't have shepherds or Magi, though they both have Jesus born in Bethlehem but later raised in Nazareth.  ["Nazareth! Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" -John 1:46] 

As imagined by Giotto
You'll recall that wealthy Eastern potentates pay a call on King Herod, inquiring about the newborn king.  Herod cannily asks them to send word when they find him so that he too can pay his respects.  They get a dream message warning them that Herod's intentions were not benevolent, so they went home by another way. Mary and Joseph were tipped off about Herod by an angel and beat feet to Egypt where they hid until the great king was dead and buried. 

As imagined by Carl Heinrich Bloch
Herod, incensed that the Magi had not ratted out the Messiah, ordered the death of every male child under two, hoping to ice this rival to his dynasty.  He failed of course, but the boys' deaths fulfilled the words of the Prophet Jeremiah (31:15) about the weeping in Ramah and Rachel crying for her children who were no more.  Matthew quotes the passage directly. 

The slaughter of these innocents also parallels the first part of Exodus, where Pharaoh is concerned about the number of Hebrews in Egypt and orders the slaughter of the infant males.  In fact, the Holy Family's dodge into Egypt and then return when the coast is clear has a certain similarity to the Hebrew sojourn in Egypt and return to Israel. 

Skeptics have doubted Matthew's story for a few reasons.  First, none of the other Gospels recount it.  Second, it seems out of character with the historical Herod.  Third, it's similarity to the Moses story feels derivative.  And finally, it seems like a pretext for satisfying various prophecies about the Messiah coming out of Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Egypt. 

To me (today anyway) the feast is not about specific infants killed during the reign of Herod.  Their story can stand in for the children targeted in any genocide.  The reason both of those stories worked is that they were plausible.  Whether or not they actually happened, things liked that happened so frequently that the stories fit.  And it is those victims -- of every faith, from every continent -- that we must remember today and every day. 

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