Even Baby Jesus was a threat to Herod. When money, tradition, power and privilege are threatened, there will be a response of retaliation. Babies may not be brutalized, as they are in this episode in Matthew 2, but when power is challenged, bad things will happen to good people. When you challenge the comfort of formidable opponents, there will be blood – figuratively or literally.
The Herods of the world have the wealth and the power to get their own way. They control who gets rewarded and who gets punished.
The story in Matthew 2:1-12 begins with “civil discourse,” polite conversation. Kindness and gentleness are good things.
Having been a pastor for 25 years, however, I discovered that great evil can hide behind civil and courteous words. Isn’t charm the great Southern gift? We speak polite and gracious shibboleths to one another in public settings, then go behind a person’s back to sabotage the words we have just spoken.
Bishop John Hurst Adams warns that the politician in the white hat and seersucker suit who shakes your hand and asks about your children is not necessarily your friend. If he does everything in his power to undermine your well-being, to deprive you of your right to freedom and prosperity, he is your enemy, possibly more dangerous than the person who is openly hostile.
Herod was playing the good ol’ boy card with the visiting wise men. “Y’all come back to see me now, ya hear? Report to me,” he said, “’cause I might just want to go worship this boy wonder Jesus, too.”
Report to me! Ha!
The history of many of our Southern problems is directly related to free, autonomous human beings created in the image of God foolishly checking in with Herod – the politicians and the corporate bosses – then doing exactly what the wealthy and the powerful want them to do.
South Carolinians such as Pitchfork Ben Tillman were masters at playing this game. When it was politically shrewd to change the public terminology in the Deep South from “white supremacy” to “states’ rights,” hundreds of thousands of poor dirt farmers and mill workers bought the whole package.
In the 21st century, it is worth noting that of the world’s 100 largest economic entities, about half are corporations, not countries. The Institute for Policy Studies has reported that General Motors, Wal-Mart, Exxon Mobil, Mitsubishi and General Electric are among those businesses that are larger economic entities than Portugal, Israel, Egypt, Ireland, Malaysia, Chile and Iran.
BP has enough money to clean up its oil spill on our coast. They are the 56th largest economy in the world. They can afford this clean-up more than the poor people of the states of Louisiana and Mississippi.
Note that when Herod called together all the chief priests and the teachers of the law, they came. Something I have learned about preachers: You pay for their trip and their meal, and preachers will go wherever the sugar daddy says to go. We are cheap and we are easy.
BP has plenty of money with which to spin the poor people of Louisiana and Mississippi until they are dizzy. They have even more money for lawyers, and even more money for government lobbyists.
“Report to me,” Herod says, “that I may go and worship him.” Herod does not have your best interests at heart. Herod is looking out for himself. Herod is not interested in God. Herod is not interested in worshiping Jesus. Herod is not interested in you.
Of course our politicians don’t literally kill. Or do they? The governor of South Carolina attempted to kill the University of South Carolina at Salkehatchie. As if the people in impoverished Allendale County don’t have enough problems, he wanted to remove that area’s major financial and cultural asset. Are the babies not dying quickly enough in Allendale County? Are the old people not losing their health fast enough?
In South Carolina, a black baby is more than twice as likely to die before his or her first birthday than a white baby. An African-American woman is four times more likely to die than a white woman from complications in pregnancy. Those are terrible statistics.
We are Christians, so thank God there is one part of the story you’ve got to love.
“After they had heard the King, they [the wise men] went on their own way.” They did not report to Herod.
Doesn’t that make sense for Christians and the church of Jesus Christ? God has given us freedom. Let’s be free. Let’s follow our conscience. Let’s follow Jesus. Yet we sell our souls to the rich and the powerful and the important. We are too easily intimidated and silenced by Big Brother Herod.
William Sloane Coffin wrote, “The herd mentality dominates us today.”
God save us from the Republicans and the Democrats and from Big Business.
The final verse of this Bible text is that they did not go back to Herod, but “returned to their country by another route.”
So we have two choices: report to Herod or go our own way.
Marion Aldridge is coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of South Carolina. This column was originally a sermon preached in May at the annual meeting of the South Carolina Christian Council.