By REV. LUNA DINGAYAN
“When Herod realized that the visitors from the East had tricked him, he was
furious. He gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its neighborhood who were two years old and younger. This was done in accordance with what he had learned from the visitors about the time when the star had appeared.” — Matthew 2:16
Every December 31, our country commemorates the death anniversary of a Filipino martyr, Dr. Jose Rizal, who was mercilessly executed for courageously exposing and opposing with his pen the barbaric powers of the Spanish crown. His blood and those of other Filipino martyrs who came before and after him had nourished our struggles for genuine freedom and independence.
Three days before Rizal Day, the whole Roman Catholic world also celebrates the Feast of the Holy Innocents or Niños Inocentes. This traditional feast, which is celebrated in our country with a typical humor, recalls the slaying of Jewish children by King Herod’s order in his attempt to make sure no one among the children would live to seize the royal throne from him in due time.
Today, one of the most serious issues being faced by the Duterte Administration is the issue of extrajudicial killings related to its war on illegal drugs. As of this writing there are now four thousand eight hundred people killed since President Duterte took over the presidency. Some of these victims were children or minors.
Rizal Day, Niños Inocentes and today’s extrajudicial killings have some things in common. They all speak of tragedies that had befallen humanity due to man’s inhumanity to his fellowman. They remind us of the moral bankruptcy that infected our lives. But at the same time, they also underscore what is best in the human which could further us into newness of life. They talk of the innocents’ blood sacrificed to bring about the realization of God’s saving act in history.
Herod’s extrajudicial killings
The Biblical story in Matthew 2:16-18 is about the extrajudicial killing of children in Bethlehem and its neighborhood. They were massacred upon King Herod’s orders. The story of Christmas is not just the story of the birth of a child; it is also the story of the death of children. Behind the backdrop of angels rejoicing and singing for the birth of the Son of God in Bethlehem were the weeping and crying of mothers whose sons were slaughtered by the soldiers of King Herod.
Let us recall that before this tragedy there were visitors from the East who went to Jerusalem, looking for the child born to be the King of the Jews. According to the Biblical account, King Herod heard about this, and he was very much upset. And the people of Jerusalem were also upset because they surely knew what would happen next.
King Herod was known for his mastery in the art of assassinations. It was said that he was appointed by the Romans to be the King of the Jews simply because he succeeded in killing all the possible rivals to the throne. As soon as he became ruler of Palestine, he started annihilating the members of the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of the Jews.
Later on, King Herod also slaughtered three hundred court officers, murdered his own wife Mariame and her mother Alexandria, his own eldest son Antipater, and two other sons, Alexander and Aristobulos – just on mere suspicions. And at the hour of his death, he even arranged for the slaughter of notable men of Jerusalem.
This was King Herod – a tyrannical ruler who governed his own people with blood in his hands. It was not to be expected, therefore, that King Herod would calmly accept the news that a child had been born to be the King of the Jews.
Let us also recall from the Biblical story how he had carefully inquired of the visitors from the East as to when they had seen the star. But even then he was craftily working out the age of the child so that he might take steps towards murder. Then, he put his plans into swift and savage action. He gave orders that every child under two years of age in Bethlehem and the surrounding district must be killed.
King Herod is no different from many politicians today who are more zealous for power than for service. They surround themselves with private armies who are more than willing to maim and kill upon their orders. But no matter how much innocent blood spilled by the enemies of the Gospel of Christ – the Gospel of love, of truth and justice – they will not be able to extinguish nor block God’s historical plan for salvation and liberation.
Killing of today’s children
The killing of innocent children continues in our time in many senseless ways. Their slow death is perpetrated by criminal neglect, by lack of food, of potable water, maternal and natal care.
Moreover, children today are also victims of modern wars. And this would take us back to the reign of King Herod in Palestine, who persecuted children in order to eliminate his enemies. Children today are indeed the saddest victims of senseless wars and bloody conflicts. They are forced to serve in the battle zones. And they bear the scars of the soul, as traumatized witnesses of violence against their own families and loved ones. The recent war in Marawi City is a living testimony to this reality.
From 1972 to 1985, various human rights groups documented more than 4.5 million children affected by increased militarization under the repressive military rule of then President Marcos. According to the statistics of the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines and the Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace, the number of children who died in the raging war in the countryside under the Aquino Administration had reached more than a million. And despite the peace initiatives of the succeeding administrations as well as the present one, the war against the insurgents still goes on.
Furthermore, there are other subtle injustices that strike at the children with greatest cruelty. In a way, perhaps every global problem exacts the heaviest toll on the health and welfare of children. The foreign debts, the destruction of the earth’s ecology, the structures of social injustice that create volatile conflict situations, are depriving children of their prospects for a better life. Former Health Secretary Alfredo Bengson was right when he said, “No suffering and no grief grieve us as much as those that strike children. Children pay the price of their parents’ mistakes.”
Blaming the victims
It is quite significant to note that among the New Testament writers, it is only Matthew who wrote about the massacre of the innocent children in Bethlehem. The town of Bethlehem as we know was not like the City of Jerusalem, the seat of power. Perhaps, the number of children in that small town would not exceed from twenty to thirty. Hence, in a land where murder was so widespread, the slaughter of twenty or thirty children would perhaps have little impact and would mean very little except to the broken-hearted mothers of Bethlehem.
Perhaps, it would be a different story if those who were slaughtered were the children of the powerful people in Jerusalem. Some Biblical critics are even saying that the slaughter of children in Bethlehem could not have taken place simply because there was no mention of it in any writing outside Matthew’s account in the New Testament. For instance, the famous Jewish historian Josephus did not even mention about it. But the fact that a thing is not mentioned even by those who are supposed to mention it, is no proof at all that it did not happen. The whole incident is so typical of King Herod that we need not doubt that Matthew is passing the truth down to us.
What is happening in our country today would illustrate this point. Whenever there are reports about massacres of children and civilians from the hinterlands of Negros, Samar, Mindanao, Bicol, Quezon, Mindoro or Cordillera as results of counter-insurgency campaigns, people in Manila seem not to be affected at all. Even if the relatives of the victims will go down to Manila and shout to their hearts content in front of Congress or Senate in order to be heard, no one seems to be listening.
Some would even say that reports of children being killed are just communist ploy to grab state power. Still others would say that there was no evacuation of civilians or killing of children, because there was no official report from government authorities, except those from church groups and other non-government organizations that are unfortunately accused of being communist fronts.
This however is not entirely true. Our national government submitted a national paper to the World Summit on Children stating that 120,000 children are affected each year by the counter-insurgency campaigns. But nevertheless, in cases wherein it is proven that there are indeed killings of innocent children, authorities would just say that it is merely an isolated case. In the end, the victims themselves are the ones being blamed for their own misfortunes.
A time to remember
But thanks to God, for we have God’s servants, like Matthew and his likes of today! Matthew was so courageous enough to put on record what King Herod had done to the innocent children of Bethlehem in order to remind, to challenge, and even to forewarn people through the ages about the truth that when rulers are obsessed and drunk with power, surely the innocents’ blood will be shed.
Let the Christmas season be a time for us to remember the innocents’ blood – the blood of the innocent children of Bethlehem, the blood of Filipino martyrs then and now, and the blood of the innocent children in the countryside and in the dark alleys of our city streets who are victims of violence and criminal neglect. For these are the blood of Christ being shed through the ages so that we will find our true selves and be cleansed from all unrighteousness and offer ourselves in the service of our people as our best gift to the child being born, not only to be the King of the Jews, but the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Have a blessed new year! # nordis.net