Herod Is Always with Us

Politics & Other Illusions

When Luke tells us the story of Jesus’ presentation in the temple, he has the prophet Simeon say to Mary, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce your own soul also), so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34–35).

That Jesus is someone whose presence means “that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” is at the core of the New Testament. Peter’s impetuousness, his avowal of faith and then his denial and repentance; Judas’s discipleship and betrayal; Paul’s persecution and conversion—all of these can be seen in the light of Simeon’s prophecy. So can Herod’s wickedness.

Told that the messiah has been born, Herod can think only of the threat this presents to his own continued control, and so the messiah must be killed. Matthew’s Gospel speaks of Jesus’ escape into Egypt and, in keeping with the theme of Jesus as the new Moses, has him come back out of Egypt, as Abraham and Moses did. But Matthew does not point out that, in some sense, Herod finally won. Jesus lived into adulthood, but then other people had him killed, essentially for the same reason.

In this world, on our side of death, Herod still wins. Every time someone dies because of a suicide bomber, a missile strike, or one of our drones, something of Herod’s spirit lives on. Everyone who kills in the name of some good cause has killed someone made in God’s image—someone...

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About the Author

John Garvey is an Orthodox priest and columnist for Commonweal. His most recent book is Seeds of the Word: Orthodox Thinking on Other Religions.