In this age of suicide bombers, we are faced with grisly questions ripped right from the dark verses of this week’s gospel: How does an innocent child grow into an adult who thinks that murdering children is a swell idea? How does the delusion take root that God is served by slaughtering his children?
In the dysfunctional Herod family, the kids learned it at home from mom and dad and grandpa. Even before the slaughter of the innocents, their vices had the makings of a trashy HBO mini-series. Regicide, patricide, fratricide and now infanticide… they did ‘em all. Killing rivals, fathers, brothers, wives, children: it was all in a day’s work. And in between they were into double-barreled incest with Herodias and Salome covering up the crime by beheading John the Baptist… just royal business as usual in the days of Caligula and Tiberius.
What sets the Herodian clan apart was their serial betrayal of God and his Chosen People. The self-proclaimed “King of the Jews” was, in fact, Rome’s lapdog. And worse, Herod was an eager and willing instrument of oppression and sacrilege. And to mask his powerless, puppet status, he went on a building binge of tombs and temples, fortresses and palaces… all supported by outrageous taxes that ground God’s people into the dust. That was the Herod family paradigm… power and pleasure at any cost. The Chosen People of God were there to be used, abused, betrayed… whatever it took to get the next bauble, to feel the next thrill, to curry Rome’s favor.
And then there was The Holy Family: Jesus, Mary and Joseph. And the contrast could not be greater… giving rather than taking, loving rather than lusting. The Blessed Mother Mary, whose soul magnified the Lord, gave herself to God as an instrument of our salvation. The righteous, faithful Joseph lived to serve. He gave God his unquestioning obedience in the face of danger and hardship. And finally, what greater contrast than Jesus Christ, God and man; he had it all and gave it all in loving obedience to the Father.
And so we have the example of two entirely different families in this week’s gospel. The family of Jesus lives to love God and neighbor. The family of Herod wants all of life’s goodies and they will do anything to get them and keep them. Which family do we follow? For most of us I suspect the answer is a hybrid. We profess the Holy Family as our ideal. But as a matter of expediency, at times there is more than a little Herod in our homes than we care to admit. That doesn’t mean patricide and all the rest, but it does come down to a question of priorities. Do we live to serve or be served? Are we givers or takers? Do we live to glorify God or satisfy the almighty me?
These are questions for which God will hold each one of us individually responsible. But the answers do not spring up spontaneously from the void. They are shaped in the context of loving, Christian families. And that means does not mean nominally Christian. It means actively Christ-centered families, who live in and for the love of God. They live a sacred legacy of family values held in trust to be passed down lovingly to successive generations. They are fostered in energized, evangelical parish families who live consciously and constantly in the love of Christ.
And so we pray in this time of family gathering and reflection that we will stand with Jesus, Mary and Joseph… and that we will answer with Joshua: Choose you this day whom you will serve…As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.
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