The Innocents and the Guilty

Today’s Gospel (Mt 2:13-18)

When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi,
he became furious.
He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity
two years old and under

Mt 2:16

Every sane person can agree that this passage documents an incredibly disturbing event — one of the most disturbing in all the Bible. There are various estimates on how many youngsters were murdered but, whether it be twenty or two hundred, the killing of innocent little children is horrifying.

Questions that come to mind:

  • Why was only Joseph warned of the coming persecution so he could save his family but none of the other families received this message?
  • Why didn’t God prevent Herod, one way or another, from carrying out this dastardly plan?
  • What must have the dead boys’ family members still living when Matthew’s Gospel circulated think of all this? Were they resentful, resigned, or rejoicing?

This episode did not have to be recorded in Scripture (only Matthew does). As it turns out, no extra-biblical source mentions it (although we know that this is not beyond the sociopath Herod’s capability), so it could have been lost to history. We also know that everything in Scripture is there through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so it needed to be included (see CCC 106). What are we to take away from it?

We are confronted here with the mystery of evil and suffering. Why does got permit terrible things to happen to innocent persons? The whole matter of free will comes into play as well. These are big subjects that have been grappled with for millennia and will continue to be mulled over for the rest of time. We will not solve them here. But three saints help us:

For the Almighty God, Who, as even the heathen acknowledge, has supreme power over all things, being Himself supremely good, would never permit the existence of anything evil among His works, if He were not so omnipotent and good that He can bring good even out of evil.

St. Augustine

We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose

St. Paul (Rom 8:28)

How can it be said that they died for Christ, since they could not use their freedom? […] God would not have allowed that massacre if it had not been of benefit to those children. St. Augustine says that to doubt that the massacre was of benefit to those children is the same as doubting that Baptism is of use to children. For the Holy Innocents suffered as martyrs and confessed Christ non loquendo, sed moriendo, not by speaking, but by dying.

Comm. on St. Matthew 2, 16 quoted from The Navarre Bible: St. Matthew

Let us conclude with this thought: Jesus ultimately did not escape the death sentence. In fact, mankind had a special brand of torture and death for the Messiah. And no mother ever hurt more than Our Lady at the loss of a child. Jesus was spared as an infant so that he could redeem those very same children that died in his stead (along with the rest of humanity). What a rejoicing there must have been among them when Jesus descended to the dead after His own murder!

Holy Innocents, pray for us!

This is My Body — on the Cross

At Mass on Sunday something occurred to me that never had before. We are all familiar with Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, when He consecrated the bread: “This is my body…given for you” (Lk 22:19). And, of course, there is a strict unity to events beginning in the Upper Room and culminating in the Resurrection. What came to my mind is Jesus saying those words on the cross to the Father. This is not recorded in Scripture, but if the Son did not express this sentiment audibly it certainly must have been in His mind and heart. Recall what the Lord expressed on Palm Sunday, knowing what lay in store for Him just a few days hence:

I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.

Jn 12:27

So, it makes sense that the Word would explicitly give His body back to the Father in His dying moments. In doing so, He gave His body for us and to us.

Holy Innocents
Massacre of the Innocents by Mariano Rossi (1731-1807)

God bless.

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