An encounter with two kings: Finding Jesus, past Herod

In the Gospel of Matthew, we read of the Magi searching for what really matters in the world: a new king heralding a new kingdom of justice, peace and

Jan 03, 2020

By Anil Netto
In the Gospel of Matthew, we read of the Magi searching for what really matters in the world: a new king heralding a new kingdom of justice, peace and a new beginning.

They got more than they bargained for as they followed the light above, which also shone a light into their own souls.

In their search for the light, they are taken past false, dazzling lights. Instead of finding Jesus immediately, their first encounter was with Herod the Great, the Roman Empire’s local representative.

And so we read of this encounter between the wise men, seeking the founder of a new kingdom, and Herod the Great, representing the established worldly power of his time. In this case, Herod came to seek the wise men out. This encounter is reminiscent of the encounter between Jesus and Pilate, the other local Roman power at the end of Jesus’ early life. Again it was not Jesus who sought Pilate out. But circumstances forced Pilate to look at Jesus.

Similarly, in the our journey in search of Jesus, the Herods, representing the vested interests and powers of this world, will lure us from our path to serve different interests. The Herods of this world attempt to lure us from following what really matters. We are tempted to turn to worldly power, materialism, self-glory, violence and destruction.

Less than 10km away from Bethlehem, Herod lived in a palace-fortress, his principal residence along the wall of Jerusalem.  This was not his only residence. The tyrant had other palace-fortresses at Caesarea Maritima, Herodium and Masada.

The principal residence was grand, even luxurious: two main wings, complete with baths, banquet halls and living quarters for lots of guests. Around it, bronze fountains spouted waters into ponds, deep canals and  cisterns and statues from which water ran out.

Porticoes near lush gardens and groves, magnificent rooms, impressive roofing with long beams, breathtaking ornaments, and gold and silver vessels. The palace was made up of huge marble stones carefully joined together so that the structure looked like one  solid piece.

In short, the contrast between Jesus’ birth place and the quarters of Herod could not have been more stark.

So this is what we have to contend with in our journey to Jesus. Along the way, we can be tempted by the materialism, the hedonism or worldly pleasures symbolised by Herod’s grand palace — just as the wise men had to encounter Herod and his opulent, even deranged, lifestyle in the midst of so many poor people living in humble surroundings.

The irony and contrast between these two different worlds could not have been greater. In today’s world, as the wealthy grow even wealthier in opulent surroundings, the poor, like Jesus, Mary and Joseph 2,000 years ago, are struggling, sometimes barely able to find a roof over their heads, given the soaring price of housing.

Worse, the extraction of wealth from the world today is taking us to the brink of destruction, with the onset of a climate emergency. We desperately need to move on to a more simple lifestyle. In this, we should reflect on Jesus and the holy family’s own lifestyle.

And so, in our journey to the light, we cannot stop and be seduced by the ostentatious wealth and materialism on display at Herod’s palace-fortress. We must continue the journey, in all humility and meekness, until our lives and lifestyles are in sync with the values of the kingdom, until we find the Light that truly matters.

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