6 January 2019
The Epiphany of the Lord
Matthew 2:1-12 + Homily
16 Minutes 24 Seconds
Link to today's Readings
(New American Bible, Revised Edition)
From the parish bulletin:
Researching the Birth Narrative of our Lord on the computer can be a source of unintentionally mordant humor. On one of the prominent encyclopedia sites, we are told in the entry for King Herod that “most scholars agree” that he was entirely capable of massacring the Holy Innocents in Bethlehem. But the same source, under the entry for Holy Innocents, says “most scholars agree” that the account was a myth, since no one would do such a thing.
The emperor Augustus, who was content to have Herod as a client ruler, punned in Greek that he would rather be Herod’s pig (“hys”) than be his son (“huios”). Herod had murdered three of his sons along with one of his wives and a brother-in-law, not to mention three hundred military officers who were abrasive to his paranoia, even though he had 2,000 bodyguards from as far away as what now are France and Germany. Augustus was appalled by the crassness of Herod, rather as the Nazis, for all their malevolence, were taken aback by the sadism of the Soviets in the Katyn Forest and the insouciant viciousness of the Vichy leaders.
To this day, remnant stones and bulwarks testify to the large-scale engineering wonders with which Herod impressed and intimidated the populace: the extension of the Second Temple, the Herodium and Masada fortresses, the port town of Caesarea Maritima, which was enabled by his development of hydraulic cement, and his shipbuilding industry made possible by the asphalt he dredged from the Dead Sea.
The Wise Men from the East, whatever else they were (and we do not know precisely from where they came or how many they were) were good psychologists. They quickly seized upon the paranoia of Herod and outwitted him, provoking the massacre of male infants two years old and under. The historians Josephus and Nicholas of Damascus do not record that slaughter because the victims were babies, and for Roman chroniclers, babies were not as important as adults. Contrary to the inspired Jewish religion, the dominant protocols of the Western world permitted the killing of infants by the paterfamilias for any reason, including inconvenience, deformity and birth control. In Sparta, only a child strong enough for development into soldiery had a right to life.
By an indult of Providence, and in contradiction to many “virtue-signaling” cynics, our current Executive branch of government has become the most pro-life since Roe v. Wade, but that is a fragile assurance and one with no promise of permanence. There are vastly more infanticides now than in Herodian Bethlehem. If our civilization lasts two thousand years more, there may be a “majority of scholars” who will say that in 2019 there were people capable of such iniquity, and another “majority of scholars” who will insist that people back in 2019 could never have been so cruel.