28 December 2016Matthew 2:13-18
"A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more." (v. 18)
Psalm: Psalm 124
This is a deeply painful passage, marked out by the maternal characteristics of God, and the strong paternal instincts of Joseph.
Perhaps here more than anywhere else, we see Joseph's growing self-confidence in his role as earthly father and patriarch of his family. For the second recorded occasion, Joseph hears God in a dream. On this occasion, it causes him to respond immediately. Joseph not only recognises God's voice, but has seen God's promises continually fulfilled and therefore trusts that this occasion will be no different.
Herod's sense of threat to his position and authority mars the events. Threatened by the star-lit prospect of a new saviour to overturn his rule, Herod characteristically overreacts. When he discovers that he has been duped by the visiting magi, and when his entourage are unable to discover the newborn Jesus, Herod orders the slaughter of all boys under the age of two.
This is a passage of gratuitous violence.
The scale of infanticide is deeply shocking.
Indicative of Matthew's Gospel, there are numerous parallels with Old Testament patriarchs and prophets. There is a slight reference to Moses' leading of the exodus (verse 15) and the killing of the Egyptian firstborn (see Exodus 11).
These cross references to the Jewish salvation story does not make infanticide any less gory and unnecessary.
In the face of two opposing acts of patriarchalism, it is noteworthy that God's character is revealed to be more maternal in character here. The quoting of Hosea 11:1 (in verse 15) expresses God's love of God's people. The final quoting of Jeremiah 31:15 and the reference to Rachel weeping over her children, again highlights the more feminine character of God.
Amidst the pain and bloodshed, there is hope - hope that following exodus comes freedom; hope that God's story is lived out by those who are refugees and outcast from their own territory. As the theologian Joe Kapolyo notes (in The African Bible Commentary): "God was not ashamed to let his son become a refugee. By sharing the plight of stateless refugees, Jesus honoured all those who suffer homelessness on account of war, famine, persecution, or some other disaster … The Bible is full of men and women who knew what it meant to be refugees."
- Have a look at JPIT's video A Very British Nativity, which highlights some of the challenges facing asylum seekers in the UK through a modern retelling of the nativity story.What difference does it make that Jesus was a refugee?
- How does God speak to you today? How can you create more space for God to speak to you throughout today?
- Read about the work of the Saying Goodbye charity supporting families who have lost children.