Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents – Matthew 2:13-18
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.Matthew 2:16
What do you see when you look at this painting? What do you feel? Where and in what ways do you see this scene being replayed in our world today?
On the left side of the painting a woman runs for the lives of her children, one under each arm. A man with a sword steps over a young body, an innocent body, chasing her. How long until she tires and slows? Dare she look back and risking stumbling, falling? It’s not safe to be weak, vulnerable, powerless. It never has been.
She is looking for a hiding place, a refuge, somewhere to go; and who can blame her? Which one of us would not do the same for our child, our loved one? Her knock is looking for a door, and what if it’s our door? What then will we do? Is there a place for them in our inn?
Another woman hides with her baby in a corner. Her hand covers the child’s mouth – no crying can he make. It’s not safe to be weak, vulnerable, powerless. It never has been.
She is looking at me. And she doesn’t look away. I wish I could unsee this scene and all the others like it. Her eyes haunt me. I wish I could be unseen but I’m not. Her eyes won’t let me go. Even her baby is looking at me. They wait and look at me as if they are both afraid of and wanting something from me. But what can I do? I didn’t cause the violence. I don’t support it. It’s not what I want.
“How long, O Lord?” When will it end? Will it ever end?
When I look at this painting I remember an e-mail I received. The subject line said, “Death by 1,000 cuts.” The sender wrote:
Does anything matter anymore? A review of the world and the changes in climate make things dire but when you watch the news no one seems to care or be aware that the planet is dying before our eyes. Will there be a second coming? I doubt it. Is there an after life? I doubt that too. Does it matter? No it doesn’t.
I’ve asked myself those same questions. Life is uncertain and risky. Sometimes it feels so overwhelming. But it’s not just climate change. It is also domestic violence, our so called “just wars,” racism, refugees and migrants, poverty, injustice, hunger, the death of innocence and innocents. Herod comes in all sorts of guises.
Yes, it still matters, everything and everyone matter, but I cannot depend on others to give me meaning or make it matter. That’s mine to do even if I do it only in my life.
I don’t know if Jesus, the man who lived 2000 years ago, will come again either in the flesh or great glory, but maybe it’s my work to be his second coming. Maybe his second coming, if it is to happen, must take place in my life by my words, my actions, my thoughts. I don’t know if there is an after life. I hope there is, but I know this: I am after life – as in chasing, desiring, wanting it – for myself and others; for the women, children, and men who are today’s holy innocents.
That this day, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, is framed by death does not diminish or negate life, this day, or this moment – it intensifies them and heightens their value.
Look in her eyes and answer this: Does she matter? Her child? Does anything matter?
Maybe the Feast of the Holy Innocents is less about what Herod did and more about what we will do.