Spirituality of the Readings
The Wise Men (Magi) took their long journey into one more kingdom.
Courteous, they visit its monarch, not realizing that he was the infamous Herod. Every amenity took place, I suppose: formal welcome, diplomatic over-do, huge meals, fine drinks. Excesses.
Finally, when the moment arrived, the Magi posed their innocent question, something like this:
So, where is this newborn king of the Jews? We have read the signs and know of his birth.
They rely on Herod for truth, since, obviously, such an infant would be Herod’s next-in-line.
But this question turns Herod’s heart upside down.
He maintained diplomatic balance, temporizing, promising to find an answer, and finally, skillfully, ending the meeting for that night.
But with insides in turmoil. Newborn King? No, no, no! I am the king! My lineage is the only answer to such a usurper. Do something, do something!
Ah, seek out your chief priests and scribes!
He does. He charms them with his version of a simple question, an idle interest. Do you experts, busy studying day and night, do you know anything about the long-predicted Messiah figure we used to hope for? If he were born today, I wonder where his birthplace would be?
Without hesitation, they reply, “in Bethlehem of Judea, where the great King David was born!” These experts knew scriptures well, as Herod did not. The newborn Messiah would be David’s successor, shepherd of the people Israel, fulfillment of everything the Jewish people had awaited for centuries.
The Herodian head swirls. Can you picture it?
At last he forms a plan.
Herod will tell the Magi the place to look and they will search out the baby, giving Herod the locale and … the kill!
He makes his way across his halls, and utters, approximately, the following words:
Bethlehem is the place he will be born! Somewhere around Bethlehem! All you have to do is find him. Oh, and of course, let me know so that I may do him homage too!
Herod’s lust for power has to banish love in favor of control. He has to compete, even with God, even with God’s Christ.
This is the same offer, notice, that Satan will give to Jesus thirty years later in the desert.
You can control the whole world, if you will only fall down and worship me. Help me defeat God.
What Herod and Satan are grabbing for is in no way related to what Jesus lived and died for. For their part, they wanted to become bigger and bigger, to stretch out to infinity. Jesus wanted to become less and less, to become transparent, just as love is. Heavy, selfish greed could demolish such a heavenly plan, couldn’t it? It surely could seem to. For Herod it certainly did seem to.
The Christmas child’s weakness formed the only answer to such evil. It showed what God had in mind. Tender, unfearing openness to love.
In our sinfulness, we tend to scoff at such an idea. A Holy Family could never win out, could it? Evil will triumph in the end, won’t it? The cross can do what Herod could not, but what Satan could. Won’t it?
Maybe. Or maybe not.
Do you or I have the courage to go with love and find out?
John Foley, SJ
**From Saint Louis University