It was the most chilling benediction I had ever heard: “Do not go in peace. Herod is still on the throne and the children are not safe.” It was spoken at a seminary chapel service; the text for the day had been the “slaughter of the innocents,” – Herod’s order to kill all of the baby boys who might be the announced “King of the Jews.”
These disturbing words came back to me as I saw pictures of children whose parents had tried to send them to the United States. And photos of injured children in Gaza and Israel. And words in church about Minneapolis kids who won’t get breakfast or lunch after summer school is over. “Do not go in peace. Herod is still on the throne and the children are not safe.”
I read recently read about the Maternity Box that is given to pregnant women in Finland. It contains everything a new baby will need: bedding, clothes, diapers, toys, even a book. The box itself can serve as a bassinette. To receive the box, the only thing the woman needs to do is to see a health care provider early in her pregnancy. The box is a public investment in infant health (prenatal care) and well-being (clothing and supplies). Herod de-throned.
I love the idea of every child being welcomed – not because the parents are prosperous (and can afford it), and not because the parents are needy (and can’t afford it). Imagine what it would be like if every baby got a box like that. Imagine what it would be like if every refugee child received a box of clothes and vitamins and books.
There is no single “Herod,” of course. Herod’s threat in our midst comes from institutions and ideologies that give lip-service to children’s welfare, then fail to embody that concern in programs or practices. I get pretty discouraged about how much time and energy it will take to change all of that – especially during those weeks when there are also wars and plane crashes and various other calamities of human life.
That preacher’s words about Herod were not really a benediction – a benediction is, after all, a “good word.” They were, however, prophetic words – words that spoke a truth we would rather not see. May they never stop disturbing us, and may we never stop trying to keep the children safe.