This is the day when the Church remembers all the innocent children in and around Bethlehem who were slaughtered by King Herod, during his attempt to kill the infant Christ.
Today’s reading from the Common Worship Lectionary is found in Matthew 18:1-10, which deals with a seemingly unrelated event from the Slaughter of the Holy Innocents. In Matthew 18:1-10 we read of how the disciples are trying to find out “who is the greatest in the Kingdom Heaven” to which Christ (after calling to a child) explains that unless they become like children they will never enter into Heaven. So did Jesus want his Apostles to throw a strop and start screaming when they don’t get what they want? Or that they were to sit around playing with toys all day?
Christ explains what he means in verse 4, “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven”. Great! Except children are usually aren’t that humble, usually their world is made up of a “me, me, me” mentality and we all know what happens when kids don’t get whatever they want. This raises two questions:
- What did Jesus mean?
- What has this got to do with the Holy Innocents?
Well I have come to the conclusion that Christ is trying to show us that just as very young children “do not desire authority, do not regard outward distinctions, are free from malice, are teachable, and willingly dependent on their parents” (as Matthew Henry wrote in 1706) so too should we as Christians have no desire for authority or outward distinctions etc.
The “little ones” Matthew refers to in verse 6 might not just refer to children, but also those who are new to the faith, and possibly even those who are on the sidelines of society (the poor and the sick) and verse 6 of
today’s reading really reminds us of the vulnerability of the those “little ones”.
It is that vulnerability that relates our message to today’s feast because it recalls to our memory the vulnerability of those infants who were slaughtered by Herod in his rage.
This butchering of infants on an industrial scale is detailed in Matthew 2:16, led to Christ’s flight to Egypt. It was an exodus which had parallels with the original story of the Exodus and especially the Pharaoh’s slaughter of Hebrew children and the birth of Moses, but just as Moses escaped and returned to save Israel, so too will the escaped Christ return to save His people. Though that doesn’t mean that the massacre is a side show to the bigger picture, rather it serves to show us the horrific and tyrannical nature of Herod and indeed of the world...a wicked and sinful world which Jesus came to overthrow and save us from. We should help the humble and vulnerable, and strive to put Christ and others before ourselves, not causing them to stumble but helping one another on our daily path...
We remember this day, O God,
The slaughter of the holy Innocents of Bethlehem by the order of King Herod.
Receive, we beseech thee, into the arms of thy mercy all innocent victims;
And by thy great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants
And establish thy rule of justice, love, and peace;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
Who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever.