Pondering the upcoming feast of the Epiphany, I found myself wondering about the message of the Magi, and imagining those last moments before King Herod signed a death warrant for countless Jewish infants stripped from their mother’s arms and put to the sword. It turned into one of those little fictions I write sometimes — once for First Things, then, at Easter, for Patheos.
This time, it’s for Word on Fire.
As Fr. Steve Grunow noted recently, Herod was already a very bad and evil man, one so consumed by a need for power, and a desire to maintain his thrown that he executed his own sons before they could conspire against him. Herod, wrote Fr. Steve, “represents all the powers that stand against Christ” even unto today. The Magi’s inquiry into the birth of the “newborn King of the Jews” certainly fed his paranoia, and if he had no compunction about killing his own sons, what would stop him from killing anyone else’s?
Uprisings and courtly intrigues were one thing. A king had to expect them, and a good king not only anticipated subversive maneuvering; he relished the variable games of wit and the ruthless stratagems that must necessarily be played daily if one wished to outlast one’s contemporaries and all the pissant usurpers—those restless and ruddy youths too ready to gallop before they have properly gamboled.
Still, more and more frequently, Herod was feeling the effort behind his stability. He noticed it the same way he noticed how much more difficult it had become to put on the ring that symbolized his office and sealed his communiques; its weight was ever the same, yet each time he slid the gold over his gnarling joints, he could not ignore the drag and bite of it.
And in a few moments, when his scribe had finished writing out his order, he would press the ring into wax as a seal of his approval and authentication, for these three duplicitous men and their entourage were not about to undermine him. His purposes would not be thwarted by so-called “magi”—scholars and sorcerers, he was told as they were presented to him. Spies or frauds, he suspected.
They’d been traipsing about Jerusalem, dropping coin at the markets, entertaining the gullible with puzzles and tricks of prophecy and inquiring repeatedly as to where the babe—“the newborn king” they called him—might be found.
A snarl came to Herod’s lips as he mused: a newborn king? No such object! But best not to permit the notion to take hold, particularly among the peasant shag-rags who were always too ready to make up a mob or a messiah as the mood fit.
You can read the whole thing here, if you want.
Using our imaginations to consider the moods and minds of those we read of in scripture is another way to pray.
Image: Public Domain