Holy Innocents

The Mormon Lectionary Project: Holy Innocents

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 I am thinking of the recent slaughter of the innocents in a school in Pakistan. No doubt if the Christ child had been born in Peshawar, an angel would have warned his parents to flee before the bullets started to fly. 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” (Psalm 124)?

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 (Moses 7:28). 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. Thanks Ronan. Unfortunately, I think the answer to your question, for much of the West, is “very few.” We are quite insulated from such things.

  2. I don’t know what I can do, but I’d like to do something. Maybe we could sponsor a stake with Liahona Children’s Foundation through BCC? I’d contribute.

  3. So would I.

  4. I third Esther’s suggestion. There are plenty of things we can do, individually and collectively, but that is a great cause.

  5. Ronan, this is wrenching. Thank you for posting.

  6. Marjorie Conder says:

    I like the Liahona idea too.

  7. I’ve got a great summary book on the Saints – done comic book style, but a Catholic friend looked it over and reported back that it was a surprisingly reverential treatment. The final comment on the Holy Innocents was along the lines of “They died not because of their testimony of Christ, but rather they died in His place.”

  8. I have often thought with regard to the story itself, whether historical or not, but in its setting of occupied Israel, analogous perhaps to present-day Palestine or Northern Ireland of 20 years ago, a family flees the massacre of infant boys with their infant son, flees not during but just before, doesn’t plan and prepare for the move, but flees by night just in time to escape with their son: what happens when they return? Would they be welcomed or would they be spurned? How do the women, bereft of their sons, who shared the joy of their pregnancy and early motherhood with the returning mother, do they welcome her back with her son? Do they wonder what she knew, and thinking she knew enough to know to flee, ask why she did not warn them so they too could escape? And the boy, is he accepted or rejected? I see him standing alone on a playground, no boys his own age to play with, pointed at and whispered about and not befriended.

  9. There’s a story to tell!

  10. I don’t see in what way your collect is more apt than the one at the beginning. It also asks God to intercede, I think you just don’t like the wording and just HAVE to say it your own way, the words others use aren’t as as effective as your own.

  11. Alma 60:13 “For the Lord suffereth the righteous to be slain that his justice and judgement may come upon the wicked”. That is why the Lord allows these slaughters take place. If the Lord stepped in to stop the killers he would interfering with our agency thus thwarting His own plan of salvation. We know that the babes that were killed will return directly to our Heavenly Father.
    JKH Please read your Bible and you will know that Jesus did not return to Bethlehem but to Nazareth so your scenario does not happen.

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