TW/CW: murder / infant death / child abuse
There is a Bible verse that always stops me in my tracks:
Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance.
—Matthew 2:16 (New Living Translation)
This is some of the most heinous evil the Bible reports. Can you imagine?
Herod couldn’t find Jesus, but he knew Jesus was in Bethlehem or nearby, and he knew Jesus was two years old or under. So Herod just took that whole group of people and had them killed. It’s an egregious abuse of power.
The Gospels record attempts on Jesus’s life once he is active in ministry, but it’s a miracle that Jesus even made it to adulthood. He emerged from an entire generation of babies that Herod ordered murdered.
The story of those babies and their families doesn’t stop with their murder. The parents had to live with the death of their children for the rest of their lives. All the birthdays, yearly feasts, and celebrations: gone. Two high school graduations—class of ’13 and class of ’14—cancelled, because no one was there to graduate. A murderous, abusive, vindictive tyrant stole those kids from their parents.
Jesus’s birth was surrounded by child abuse.
“O Little Town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie”? Nope. At least not for long. Herod was making that little town a cesspool of death and trauma. There’s no stillness in what Matthew goes on to describe, quoting the prophet Jeremiah:
“A cry was heard in Ramah—
weeping and great mourning.
Rachel weeps for her children,
refusing to be comforted,
for they are dead.”
Did Mary and Joseph and Jesus have survivor’s guilt? How awful must Mary and Joseph have felt about all this? And what was Jesus’s reaction when he realized the circumstances surrounding his birth? Surely this did not look like the salvation the angel had promised Jesus would bring—maybe even its opposite.
I’ve started wondering: all this killing of little babies… did this shape Jesus’s passion for ministering to children? Was it a deeply formative experience for how Jesus would live in the world?
More specifically, did the abuse and trauma Jesus learned about inspire him to especially love the abused and traumatized? Did the erasure of children and complete destruction of their rights lead him to become a champion of children?
Reading against such a backdrop, these words of Jesus strike me as even more poignant—and powerful:
“Let the little children come, and do not forbid them, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
“Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.
And this powerful moment:
And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
I have to think Jesus carried all the death and grief and trauma that others experienced, not just at the cross, but from the very time he was born. When he looked at the children coming to him, did he remember all the children that would never have a chance to approach him? When he blessed the children, was it a deliberate undoing of the curse Herod had pronounced?
Miraculously, Jesus survived citywide infanticide. He lived through that systemic abuse. Now he would prioritize the well-being of children. He would make sure they could truly live.