Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Feast of the Holy Innocents, and Michael Vick

Today, our calendars mark the Feast of the Holy Innocents; a day that has captured my mind since I was six years old. This day, and my understanding of it has taken on an evolving understanding as I’ve grown into adulthood. Today, we remember those whose lives were prematurely snuffed out at the hands of cruel soldiers operating under the orders of a megalomaniacal puppet of Imperial Rome.

The second chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel provides us with a brief, chilling account of the events surrounding this feast day.

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
"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."

Herod “the Great” clearly suffered from paranoid-schizophrenia, a particularly dangerous condition for a despot with the power of life or death. His wife Mariamne and three of his sons were executed under his orders. Though being one who professed to be a Jew, the historian Josephus recounts a decadent lifestyle that would have been completely scandalous to the observant Jew. So when in another fit of paranoia he ordered the slaughter of male infants in the vicinity of Bethlehem, it would hardly raise a blip radar. Herod was so consumed by the fact that few if any would mourn his passing, that he assembled a group of influential men at Jericho. Upon his death, these men would be slaughtered with the idea that expressions of grief and mourning might be seen as mourning for Herod. His son Archilaus refused to carry out the order.

When I first heard this Gospel account at age six, it was truly frightening. I had an incomprehensible image of soldiers descending on unsuspecting children and hurting them. I could only ask why. It would take some more time to begin to understand the greater magnitude. Growing to adulthood and becoming a parent with two little guys of my own, the focus seemed to turn from the little ones and onto Rachael and her neighbors. Rachael (as foretold by Jeremiah) was seized with a searing grief that no consolation could assuage. Mere moments ago, her little Matthias or Joseph was quietly playing at her feet as she perhaps kneaded the dough for the family bread. Or, maybe her little Jonah was following her home from the well. Now, in a horrific moment, he’s gone. She cries out to heaven as acid tears burn her cheeks.

This morning as I meditate over the Collect and appointed readings, my focus has been pulled back all the way to the Throne of the Almighty. We serve a God who is acquainted with our griefs and sorrows. What did He feel at that moment? What does he feel in the face of man’s abject inhumanity to man? Does his heart feel like my heart when I ponder acts of cold, wanton cruelty?

I know that Michael Vick’s name in the title may seem absolutely random if not a bit kooky. But, at least in my fever swamp brain, he fits into this.

Mr. Vick was tied to a dog fighting ring for which he was tried, convicted and punished. He served hard time for this and I pray that the lessons were learned and the debts paid.

There are many sports that guys and their dogs can participate in, but dog fighting doesn’t make the list. It is cruel at is very core and has no place in our society. What I don’t understand however, is how those who cry for the dogs in the dog fighting trade have absolutely no issue over the 3,100 prenatal infants whose lives were suddenly snuffed out today in what should have been a sanctuary… their mother’s womb. This really speaks to a societal cognitive dissonance

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