“he was greatly perturbed”
Monday, 4 January 2021
In our Gospel on Sunday, we heard the story of the Magi visiting Mary, Joseph and the child Jesus. A character who is mentioned a few times in this story is King Herod. He was part of a dynasty of rulers who shared the name ‘Herod’. Chapter 2 of Matthew’s Gospel refers to the figure we call Herod the Great, a king who, by arrangement with Rome, ruled Jewish Palestine from 37 B.C.E. to 4 B.C.E. In a real sense – he was the ‘King of the Jews’. So you can imagine how he reacted to the arrival of the three wise men from the East to adore a newborn ‘King of the Jews’. In contrast to the Shepherds’ reaction, who on hearing the news calmly came to worship the Christ-child, Herod reacted defensively, doing everything he could to protect himself and his legacy.
Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis notes how the Magi were drawn to Christ and inspired to travel long distances to adore him. (Note how adoration is proposed as the natural response to the discovery of truth, and in the one who is Truth). However, Herod was “greatly perturbed”. Herod’s gaze does not go heavenward, to the stars and the unmistakable signs for those who had eyes to perceive and understand. Herod instead looks downward to his paltry kingdom. When he inquires frantically about this Child, he knows enough to call him “the Christ”, the Anointed of God. Herod knows, and in theory accepts, what Christ is, the Messiah; but he does not accept it for himself. His knowledge of Christ impels him to hatred and not to adoration. He will have no prophecy of Micah (5:2), or any other prophet, fulfilled in his kingdom.
Pope Francis notes that Herod “closed himself in front of the story of the Magi and transformed his closure into lies and violence.” He says that each of us must ask ourselves if we want to follow Jesus with the docility of shepherds or with the self-protection of Herod. Can we come and adore Him?