The Way Things Are
In the Gospel Reading, by means of heavenly signs God sent the Magi to the baby Jesus. In the end, the signs in heaven were not enough; but there was a special revelation about this child that added the missing element. When they did find the child, the Magi left him rich gifts. And then God warned the Magi in a dream not to return to King Herod to tell him where the baby was. Because of that dream, the Magi went home another way, and the baby was kept safe from Herod.
Just look at all the things God does for this one child! Signs in heaven, miraculously helpful strangers, special messages from God, rich gifts, and warning dreams, divine protection against powerful bad people.
How many children die, who might have been saved if even one of these things had been done for them? A sign that brings help from afar, a special instruction from God, huge amounts of money, a dream that protects from bad guys—these things are not enough to keep all children from early death, but surely many children could have been saved by any of these means.
Why does God give all these things to Jesus? Why doesn’t God give even some of them to all children?
The answer to both questions is the same, I think. The first thing that happens after the Fall is that Abel, one of the children of Adam and Eve, dies at the hand of Cain, their other child. God could have protected Abel from Cain by any of the means God used to help Jesus—but God doesn’t do so. From the very beginning of our post-Fall world, God establishes this policy: he will not force anybody to omit what is evil or to do what is good. God will call his people and shepherd them—but he will not force them. And so countless children die because of the evil of other human beings.
But the powerless baby Jesus is God’s best hope of healing for human evil. Jesus is God’s call of love. And that is why God’s power can be used to keep Jesus from dying as a baby. He needs to die on the cross. That death is the last, most powerful call of love.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University