January 7, 2018
The whole world was expecting a new king. William Barclay names many sources that something was happening. A new king was coming and would be born in Judea, the land of the Jews. When the three wise men, the scientists of their day, arrived in Jerusalem, they did the natural thing, they went to the palace and asked where the new king was to be born. Having understood the predictions and the signs in the sky, they brought gifts appropriate for the occasion: Gold for Christ the King, Frankincense for Christ the High Priest, and Myrrh for Christ the sacrifice who would die for the sins of the world. The wise men came and worshipped. They celebrated the birth of God’s greatest gift.
But not everybody was celebrating. The Roman appointed King of the Jews, Herod, was worried. First of all, his rule was very tenuous. The Jews were a hard people to rule. Their strange customs and their refusal to follow the approved religion of Rome meant that they were constantly at odds with their rulers. It took great diplomacy and sometimes harsh punishment to keep the peace. Herod was chosen to be king partly because he had Jewish blood and understood the Jewish customs. But the peace he kept was very weak and Herod was very thin skinned. He constantly felt that his place was threatened. So talk of a new king of the Jews particularly scared him. He knew that new kings often eliminated the competition by putting to death the former king and his family. For Herod, this talk of a new king was a threat. Dealing with it was a matter of life and death. Herod chose to do the only thing that he thought would save his life. He chose to get rid of this baby that threatened his way of life. It is too bad really, because if he had chosen to worship instead he would have found that the baby had come to save him as well.
We look at the actions of Herod and think, “How could he ever do something like that? How could he put his own interests in front of the interests of the world?” But if we’re honest, we often do the same thing. We measure goodness based on whether or not it lets us keep our way of life. Think about the recent tax bill that was passed. The big question for most of us was how will it affect me? Will my taxes go up or down? That’s how we decide whether it is good or bad. Think about our politics. Approval of congress as a whole is consistently low but our own senators and representative get re-elected because of what they do for us. We often choose our friends and colleagues based on how they make us feel and what they can do for us. We do this because the world tells us to take care of ourselves first and to get rid of anything or anyone who brings us down.
As we read through the Bible this year we will encounter readings that confuse us, that upset us and that even call us to change our way of life. When this happens we have two choices. We can respond like Herod or we can respond like the wise men. Many people have responded to scripture like Herod responded to Christ. Marcion an early theologian got rid of the whole Old Testament. Thomas Jefferson literally cut out portions of the Gospels that he disagreed with. Today groups like the Jesus Seminar still decide for themselves what parts of the Gospel are valid and what are not.
We can be tempted to do this as well. When we encounter scripture that calls us to deeper personal and social holiness through obedience to God’s law—not because it leads to salvation-- but because it pleases God, we put it away by reminding ourselves that God’s love is great. When we encounter scripture that calls us to a deeper sense of love and forgiveness for those who have wronged us—for our enemies-- we ignore it and remind ourselves that God is a God of justice. We look at God’s love and justice as an either or situation, but really God’s love and justice only work when they work together. Only when we try and fail to live in obedience and realize how we are subject to justice can we truly understand How great God’s love is. Jesus put it this way: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.
Our other response to these challenging scriptures is to respond like the wise men, like any wise person, and worship God by putting God first. This also requires us to put things away, to get rid of things. We need to put away the things in our lives that keep us from living as God wants us to live. We need to pray and ask God’s help in understanding the Scripture as God intends for it to be understood not how it allows us to keep our way of life. We need to ask God to help us understand how this reading fits with other seemingly contradictory readings and how they all fit into the Gospel that God loves the whole world and wants us all to return to God. Finally we need to ask God for the grace, the strength, and the will to change our lives from what they are to lives that glorify God.
As we read through the Bible this year, we have a choice. We can be like Herod and put away those things we fear, or we can be like the Wise men who bowed before The King of Kings and received the greatest gift. Amen
Barclay, W. (2001, 3 22). StudyLight.org. Retrieved 12 9, 2017, from https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/mark-1.html