This is such an incredibly difficult gospel to read. Anyone who has parented a child can relate to the painful reality of the violence committed upon these children. According to the Catholic News Agency, the Greek Liturgy asserts that Herod killed 14,000 boys, the Syrians speak of 64,000, and many medieval authors speak of 144,000, according to Rev. 14:3. However, Bethlehem was a rather small town, so 144,000 is an unlikely number. But, no matter the number, these children are venerated by the Church as the first martyrs. Instead of joy at the birth of their savior, many families lost a precious child.
Can you imagine the evil Herod fearing his own loss of power so much that he would even conceive of such an atrocity? He clearly did not know the power of the true God. He was never going to rejoice at the birth of the Christ. He couldn’t take a chance of being replaced by a better king. Jesus came, even to save Herod.
And yet, the suffering of these babes, the bloodshed, is yet another reminder to us of Christ’s saving body and blood shed for us. The Holy Innocents died for Christ so that He could die for us – we could say that the innocents died instead of Christ; that was Herod’s intent, to kill all of the boys under two years of age to be certain that the Jewish King, Jesus, would be among them.
I can imagine Christ surrounded in a warm welcome at his Resurrection by all the Holy Innocents who died instead of Him, so he could save the world then return to the loving arms of the Father.
Let us all be truly filled with joy at this time, for we know a Father who loves us so much that later he would let his own perfect and sinless son die for all of us sinful and imperfect humans. It is his coming that we celebrate. A promise made by God through the Prophet Isaiah 700 years before Jesus’ birth. We have a loving God who keeps his promises – Rejoice!
Patty Masson supports the Passionists from Spring, Texas.