Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Slaughter of the Innocents

The most troubling part of the Christmas story for me has always been Matthew’s story of the slaughter of the innocents (Matthew 2:16). As I grew up, the adults around me shielded me from this gruesome tale for many years. But, as an adolescent, when I first heard it, I was shocked.

"Why?" I wondered. "Why would anyone murder babies and children two years old and younger? What could drive someone to commit such a cruel and bloody deed?"

Matthew tells us that King Herod was "infuriated" when he discovered that the Wise Men had tricked him, going home "by another road." By-passing Herod, the Magi evaded his command to "bring me word so that I may go and pay [the newborn Messiah] homage." That was a lie, of course. What Herod really wanted to do was to find that baby – who might be a rival for his throne – and insure that he never grew up!

So Herod was angry, frustrated and fearful for his position of power. He, of course, didn’t actually kill the children. It was the soldiers under his command, who carried out his brutal orders and did the dirty deed. And the mothers of Bethlehem and the surrounding countryside were left with only their tears and their aching hearts.

"Why?" That question has tortured me for many years. Now that heartless slaughter has been repeated in my own lifetime. Again mothers – and fathers – weep with the pain of broken hearts – not in Bethlehem, but in Newtown, Connecticut. An angry young killer has slaughtered twenty innocent children and several of their adult protectors.

Why? Was he, too, frustrated by the demons raging inside him, fearful that they might take away his power over his own life? He didn’t use a sword to kill. Instead, he used a high powered assault rifle and a twenty lifetime’s supply of ammunition to slaughter innocent six- and seven-year-olds.

The question "Why?" consumes our minds again, this time in real life. There is no answer. But there is another, more realistic, question: "For what purpose?"

Unlike the mothers of Bethlehem who could only mourn their slaughtered innocents, we do not live in a monarchy ruled by a cruel and unpredictable despot. We live in a democracy – government of the people, by the people, and for the people – so we have political power those grieving mothers did not have. We can influence our political leaders to make changes that will improve the health and sanity of our society. If we do not exercise our social and political responsibilities, twenty more innocents will have been slaughtered in vain.

Parents of Newtown:
Weep for the children
that are no more.
Wail for your sons and daughters
stolen from you
by a madman.
Rage in your anger
knowing you are not alone;
Bereaved parents
from biblical Bethlehem
to current Chicago
join you in your rage
at the slaughter of innocents.
Scream until we hear
– we whose children survive –
and join hands with you
to make our society
a safer and saner place.