“Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”
Beware when those in power use religious language to cloak an evil agenda. King Herod, fearful of even a newborn rival, tried to exploit the Magis’ genuine piety by turning them into spies. If they would only identify this infant King, Herod—full of pious talk—could have him destroyed.
Herod is not exactly a scripture scholar:
And when [Herod] had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea…”
Herod needs a cheat sheet because to him, the scriptures are not the key to conversion of heart, cherished words of guidance and affection from a loving God. They’re a resource to be used for his own purposes. In a few short verses, we’ll see what those purposes are: Herod sends his forces out to slaughter every baby boy under two years old that they find in and around Bethlehem. The Holy Family slip away to Egypt, leaving behind them streets filled with blood and tears.
I once heard someone say that the scriptures are dangerous in the hands of the unconverted. That may sound like an elitist, insider statement, but the thing is that people of good will who are not religious mostly leave sacred texts alone, and find their inspiration elsewhere. Further, “unconverted” in this context doesn’t refer to “nones”—those who, when asked to indicate their religion, check “none.” It’s about those whose hearts and lives are their own, along with their wealth and privilege, who desire to rule their own little kingdom and deny, as the Principles of my Franciscan Order put it, “the poverty in the world and its claim on them.”
Any and every one of us has the potential to be this kind of ruler. We may not be in a position to carry out wholesale slaughter, but with the limited power we have we can still inflict our share of misery on those about us. Let’s not pass by this day without reflecting on our own use and abuse of power, which comes from the same impulse as Herod’s.
But let us also be vigilant in how we hear our leaders when they make unholy alliances and try to sell us a murderous agenda in pious language. Because King Herod may be gone, but the Herodian spirit is still with us, and Jesus’ advice is as pertinent as ever: “What I say to you, I say to all: Watch!”