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Interfaith

Tyranny & the slaughter: The Feast of the H

Frank Gelli points out how ‘the Feast of Holy Innocents’ represents a

sad side of Christmas

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few days after the joyful presence – and perhaps the sentimentality – of the child Jesus in his manger at Christmas, the liturgy of the Church invites reflection on something very dark, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, falling on 28th December. It commemorates the massacre of the babes of Bethlehem by King Herod, the monstrous tyrant ruling over Palestine/Judea. A puppet ruler, installed by the Romans, and a man so vile that he executed his own wife Mariamne, her mother and two of his own sons. The second chapter of St Matthew’s Gospel narrates how the tragedy unfolded. After Jesus was born, the Magi, Persian wise men, came from the East to Jerusalem, inspired by the sight of a star to render homage to the infant Messiah, foretold by the prophets. The news alarmed Herod, afraid of God’s justice. Pretending friendship, he asked the Magi to let him know where the holy child was. The wise men did indeed find and worship baby Jesus but, warned by an angel in a dream, they did not inform the tyrant. Enraged, Herod ordered the extermination of all the male children of Bethlehem and the neighbouring region, who were two years old. Providentially, Joseph and Mary had taken their little child and escaped to safety into Egypt. King Herod, in persecuting Jesus, was truly an emblem of

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Satan and his minions. The killing of the innocent is a crime that cries to Heaven for vengeance. Little children are vulnerable beings, harmless and innocent by any definition. How many perished at the bloody hands of Herod’s butchers? The Ethiopian and the Greek Churches in their liturgies count fourteen thousand victims on that occasion. Probably an exaggeration but the numbers are not as important as the horrible crime itself. Christians venerate the Holy Innocent as the first fruits and flowers of martyrdom and also as a token and a foreshadowing of the future execution of Christ. And the spotless sacrificial lamb, and of so many Christian witnesses down the centuries.

Massacre of the Innocents - Fresco

In the person of Herod and his barbarity, we discern how ambitious, cruel and blind tyranny is. God is not mocked, however. The hideous tyrant did not live long to enjoy the kingdom for the sake of which he had shed so much blood. Haunted by the ghosts of his victims, remorse and despair affected his mood and disturbed his sleep. Herod soon became ill. A filthy and painful disease broke out all over his body. Ulcers tormented his flesh and worms and lice festered over him. The smell emanating from his loathsome sickness was so offensive that his courtiers could not abide it. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus relates that the tyrant, maddened by his sufferings, ordered many of his top-ranking subjects to be killed. ‘I know my people detest me and will rejoice at my

islam today issue 54 December 2017  
islam today issue 54 December 2017