The story of the Magi in Matthew’s Gospel, touches us as we consider the daring of these shadowy figures – how they followed a star and travelled great distances to seek the child they knew was born to rule.
Today, let’s look at the darker side of this story, and in particular, let’s look at Herod. We usually skip over him, but studying him can help us appreciate the courage of so many others in this story.
Herod knew from consulting his own priests and wise men that the child for whom the Magi searched was long awaited . He was the realization of hope in the very people over whom Herod was king. Now, in Herod’s own lifetime, this longing would be fulfilled. Instead of responding with wonder and joy as the shepherds did, Herod, responded with selfishness and deceit. He was threatened to his core. This infant must be destroyed. In his rage at the thought of being unseated, Herod massacred the children in the area where Jesus lived, hoping Jesus would be among them. Great sorrow covered the land, but Herod didn’t care.
We don’t like Herod. We don’t like any of the Herods of the Gospel - not the one who sought the child Jesus, nor the one who killed John the Baptist, or who went after the adult Jesus.
This Herod of Jesus’ infancy, failed, not because Jesus had an army better than Herod’s or because Jesus had greater intelligence. Herod’s plan failed because the Magi, Mary and Joseph listened to the word of God and obeyed it.
In the face of the demonic in today’s world, will we listen to the word of God and obey it? Obedience is not a popular term today. We Americans don’t like to be told ” Do this. Don’t do that.” As if that’s what true obedience is. We prefer to dialogue, and then leave each other to our own opinions. After all, we argue, it’s the adult and self-directing thing to do.
But to whom or to what can we be properly obedient? Whenever I feel my back against the wall, I try to remember to be to obedient to the unenforceable. That’s a definition of ethics I came across some time ago. Ethics is obedience to the unenforceable. When I know I must do something and no one else knows I must do it, it is unenforceable. Will I do it or not?
When no one is watching and I feel compelled to act in a particular life-giving way, what I am moved to do is unenforceable. Will I do it or not? Joseph had his dream. The Magi had their dream. The messages they were given were unenforceable. No one made them act, but they knew what they needed to do and they did it. They made decisive responses and that made all the difference.
This year, 2019, new Herods will arise and maybe some old ones will return. Personal Herods who want to destroy our very lives or macro- Herods whose egos are so huge that they believe only what they want matters in the world. In these moments of potential conflict, stand firm. Listen to your dream. Go where it tells you to go. Do not tarry. Do not be afraid. Follow the star. Go.
~Sister Joan Sobala
~Sister Joan Sobala