REFLECTION: "Children Are Such an Inconvenience"
It must be pretty bad when you’re the nominal leader of a conquered land, subject to a foreign power, and you feel that the only way to solidify your position is to kill some kids.
And yet, our Gospel today presents us with just that scenario. The small town of Bethlehem, estimated population 1,000, sees the arrival the nominal soldiers of Herod, tasked with the extermination of any potential rival to the throne.
Now, let’s first reign in some degree of drama. The Byzantine version of the story features 14,000 little boys killed. The East Syrian version claims 64,000, whilst the Copts cite the figure as being 144,000. These numbers are highly inflated, and there is very little chance that they are true. First, a massacre on that order of even 14,000 would have definitely caused a widespread outcry, and would have been recorded in history outside of Scripture. Herod was a particularly brutal tyrant; the man stooped to murdering some of his own children… so it is definitely in keeping with his style of administration. The real number of Holy Innocents, however, is much more properly estimated in the range between six and twenty in town, and an addition dozen or so in the surrounding countryside. Now, this number sounds a lot lower than 14,000. By nature, some of the horror begins to ebb… but should it?
Children have too long been cheap, easy targets for people in power. Sometimes, they are targeted through their education, that they might walk lock-step in line with the teachings of the local nation-state. In other places, they are turned into almost literal toy soldiers, parading around with weapons, and no real understanding of the politics or the cost of war. In ancient times, infants became the target of individual greed or desire – often being abandoned on the roadside to die when unwanted by their parents.
At the risk of turning a cliché, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Today, in every part of this world, children are abused, neglected, and abandoned. They are transformed into agents of the state, and, as we have heard in our own local news this week, they are still abandoned to die when unwanted.
But what do we, as a society, do to stand up to the continued slaughter of innocents in our day? Many Bible-believing Christians decry abortion, but scream so loudly about social welfare programs that it makes their outrage over abortion look pathetic. Government leaders continue their own indifference towards children in many instances as well – using them as pawns for elections by proposing programs and ‘solutions’ to issues like systematic poverty, hunger, and lack of opportunity which have no chance of doing anything but scoring political points on the way to a new office.
We’d never admit it, but as a society, we are quite OK with having plenty of Holy Innocents dying in our communities every day… all because to many of us, as to Herod, some children are simply an inconvenience; thus their lives become inconsequential.
People think our attitudes towards children and their disposability are rooted in the legalization of abortion. People would be wrong. Our attitudes towards children are rooted in a selfishness… which itself is rooted in our fall from grace in Eden. I suppose we could pat ourselves on the back and say, “At least we come by it honestly.”
But that would be a lie. We continue to come by it because many of those who bear authority in this world care more about their own power and personal gain than they do about the children in our world. Heck, forget people in authority… many parents feel the same way.
How is it that a family has money for cigarettes, but not enough money to feed their kids?
How is it that a nation has enough money to maintain a nuclear arsenal that could irradiate the earth, but not enough money to provide proper food, housing, and clothing for its children?
How is it that an insurgency walking under the banner of religion can convince even the fathers and mothers of children under its influence that the systematic rape, torture, and enslavement of their own children is right and just?
How can our own faith tradition continue to seek ways to run from its own history with children, attempting – in some instances – to find legal loopholes to protect its cash instead of taking ownership of its past failings and making sustained efforts to change?
The answer to all these questions is rooted in the same answer we’d give concerning Herod. The selfish king cared more about himself, his power, and his reputation than he did about those under his banner who were most vulnerable… and so, when they became in inconvenience, he had no trouble exterminating them.
Are children, to us, an annoyance? Well, ask any parent who is being honest and yes, their kids annoy them. They probably annoy them multiple times a day. But when we love our children, when we care for them, when we cherish them, the annoyances are a drop in the bucket compared to the love that would see us fiercely protect and contend for them.
And so, my brothers and sisters, let us pray… pray for children who are marginalized and unwanted; for parents who are so frustrated or so self-absorbed that their children have become perpetual nuisances; for civil leaders who view children as political pawns, disposable tissue, or as cannon fodder. And, friends, let us pray for ourselves… even if we don’t fit into one of these categories. Let us pray that we, for our part, will follow the leading of the Spirit to ensure that we do all that we can, and advocate wherever possible, to ensure that no child becomes an innocent victim ever again.