The Mormon Lectionary Project: Holy Innocents

Holy Innocents, Year A

Jeremiah 31:15-17Revelation 21:1-7Matthew 2:13-18Psalm 124, Moses 7:28

The Collect: We remember today, Heavenly Father, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Let us not deceive ourselves: The collect is wholly at odds with the narrative in Matthew 2:13-18. We pray, of course, that “innocent victims” be received into God’s eternal love, but we sadly wonder why God’s “great might” does not actually seem to turn very often to the “designs of evil tyrants” despite our prayers. As I write this in 2013 I am thinking of the slaughter of the innocents in Damascus and elsewhere. No doubt if the Christ child had been born in Al Ghouta, an angel would have warned his parents to flee to Jordan or somewhere before the sarin gas fell, asphyxiating the other children. No matter that the murder of so many children in Bethlehem by Herod is historically questionable; the fact remains that innocents do die “among wailing and loud lamentation” every single day. Could not God have saved all of the children of Bethlehem, helped them all “escape . . . the snare of the fowler”?

In such matters it does not do to offer easy theodicies. We can only have Jeremiah’s “hope for [our] future,” a hope so amazingly expressed in John’s vision: “he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And, as Mormonism teaches, this healing will also include God’s own tears. Eventually.

And so to a different collect, one more in keeping with the desperation of this day:

Dear God, merciful God, loving God — do something! Do not wait for the first things to pass away. It is too long and the suffering too great.

. . .

. . .

In the meantime, I suppose we have to accept that we have no way to call down divine justice, much as we may want it. And so we’re left with this: how many of the children of Bethlehem will we save?


  1. I will leave a comment before reading the cited scripture. Whether an appointed dictator like Herod, or an elected politician of today, our rulers can have evil designs leading us to war. Some times those designs appear to be less evil, i.e. motivated by Satan and founded upon the thrust for power and more upon fear and misinformation. Regardless, when war follows, we violate our reaching the goal mentions and instead continuing to study war. Isaiah looked forward to the day when the Saints of God would stop the pursuit of war, beat their weapons into instruments of service to others and study war no more.

    I ask one simple question. Are we as the supposed Saints of the Latter-days ready to convert? Or will we continue to study war? That rock cut out of the mountain without hands cannot and will not roll through the entire earth pushed by us and our hands until we learn to do so. I would add Isaiah 2: 2-5 to the list of scriptures as well as Daniel’s interpretation of the dream.

  2. Daniel 2:31-end and Isaiah 2:2-5 fit in quite well. Where we pray “Dear God, merciful God, loving God — do something!” is it not up to us to act and in taking action do something? Repeatedly at veterans functions I am thanked for my service. But the service I wished I could be thanked for is not service to my country, but service to my God! DO SOMETHING for Him. Study war no more. But with the love of Christ in our hearts, turn from vanity towards charity. Beat the heck out of our instruments of war and turn them into instruments of peace, charity and love. That will keep the stone we believe was cut out in 1830 rolling like never before.

  3. Ronan, this is a great reflection on this reading — thank you. The conclusion is particularly important: “And so we’re left with this: how many of the children of Bethlehem will we save?”

  4. Without a doubt saving Syrian children is vital. I have been as close to Syria as the border with Turkey [1978]. But as recently as today [CSPAN] I witnessed a panel discussion on how complicated doing so has become. Again I suggest that in the long run, salvation comes from rejecting war, and in doing so, bringing charitable service to others. Certainly we will loose lives, but not likely as many as war takes from us and as many as we take from others. Where our President’s threat of war seems to be leading Syria to pound their chemical weapon spears into dust, I see that as a start. Perhaps we need to make further progress along those lines. But the fundamental dispute is between Assad and two opposing forces, his long standing domestic opposition, and an external opposition funded by others. Our funding seems likely to get all mixed up between these two opposing forces.

  5. Antonio Parr says:

    Ronan –

    Thank you for this.

  6. Quoting Janice Allred, “The purpose of pacifism has always been to expose intractable evil.”

    What is a more apt representation of pacifism than the helpless child? What creature can more perfectly reveal the bitter fruit growing in the hearts of the wicked?

    Weather we site abuse in the home (small scale exhibition of evil) or war-time atrocities (death and destruction on a grand scale) The Child is witness. The suffering child is, in fact, the beginning of God’s judgement. Destruction of innocents (and innocence) is the perfect device by which God shines a damning light on the darkness dwelling in the hearts of certain souls.

    I personally believe that many spirits knew, on some level, before they ever left heaven, that their role in the kingdom would be to suffer at the hands of evil individuals. And that they chose this, in part, out of love for their brothers and sisters — to preserve the agency of those who would perpetrate evil. For “Greater love hath no [one] than this, that a [child] lay down [her] life for [her] friends.”

    This idea does not ease the sorrow I feel for the harm perpetrated against children on a daily basis. But it provides me with a firm foundation from which to engage with the wickedness in the world and in which I find courage, comfort and hope for all God’s children.

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