In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
I don’t know about you but I don’t like being disturbed. Especially when it has taken me a while to get everything just the way it should be, and I can finally settle down into the comfort of the conditions I have created. Whether it be the way my office administration operates, or something smaller like settling down to have a cozy evening read; I dislike disturbance.
On this feast of the Epiphany Matthew tells us that Herod and the whole of Jerusalem were disturbed. It was all because some exotic Eastern mystics, called Magi, who drifted into Jerusalem, wanted to know where the child was who had been born as the king of the Jews.
I am puzzled as to why this should have made troubled Herod, and why Herod’s perturbation should have been so infectious as to disturb all of Jerusalem with him?
But when I remember how I dislike being disturbed I begin to understand Herod’s agitation. He had built himself a comfortable kingdom that worked for him. Obsequious enough to Rome, he was rewarded with “homeland” rule, much like the puppet leaders of the old South African regime were rewarded for their loyalty to the Pretoria Nationalists.
The mere thought that there was another “king” out there who could threaten Herod’s comfort was cause enough to disturb him. The fact that the whole of Jerusalem was agitated too, is testimony to the fact that there are very few societies that embrace change. Despite the graces of a Gandhi, Mandela or Obama, we still find change from our familiar power bases disturbing.
As we read on into this chapter however, we are given deeper clues as to the reason for the agitation. Herod like so many power players was agitated because at a deep level he knew that there were ethical issues at stake.
The research that Herod commissions from the scholars yields an interesting piece of prophecy, ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’
It would seem to me that Herod’s agitation is deepened into murderous intent when he realizes that this is no mere political opponent he is going to have deal with. I infer this because of the phrase, “a ruler who will shepherd”
Shepherding is not associated with political power is it?
Rulers rule. Presidents preside. Leaders lead. Executives execute.
They don’t shepherd!
Shepherding implies compassion, care and a courageous life-sacrificing quality that few powerful people would understand or want to practice.
Yet this had always been the basis of Godly rule from the inception of the monarchy in Israel. The very first king David was called from the flocks to be the shepherd king, an archetype which was espoused and fulfilled in Jesus the good shepherd.
Herod, power player and man of maneuvering, could not begin to think of his leadership in those terms, and even though his scripture scholars may have pointed out that this was the scriptural paradigm, Herod knew that this was not how he came to power, and this was certainly not how he was going to stay in power.
So he turned his focus to bloodshed and destruction and is forever remembered as the butcher of the Bethlehem innocents.
I wonder how we are reacting to the reality that there is one amongst us who challenges our illegitimate power bases? This holy child whose birth we have totally over-celebrated, once again, last week.
Do we also want to “put him away” this Epiphany? Of course not in butchering bloodshed! We are too subtle for that. No we can simply pack this shepherd king away with the Christmas tree and lights, as we dismantle them on the twelfth day of Christmas and assign them to the musty cupboard till next Advent?
Are we also agitated and troubled by the thought that allowing this child to continue to grow in our “homelands” may cost us too much, and disturb our comfortable kingdoms more than we care for?
Herod hid from grace and terrible destruction was the fate and fruit of his life from then on.
Could we do it differently?
The mystical magi are knocking on the door. They speak of stars and destiny, and shepherd kings who can lead us to God.
Will we allow them to disturb us enough that we might join their caravan of change?