“These Violent Delights Have Violent Ends”

Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12

The Herodians were a powerful and controversial leading family in the region of Judea before and during the time of Jesus the Messiah. Had they been around during the 21st century they would have been the stuff of tabloids, reality tv, and social media gossip. This first family of the Jewish people were hounded by stories of sexual escapades, lavish spending, political power plays, betrayals, internal family murders, and outward civilian bloodshed. They would have made the scandalous Underwood family of Netflix’s hit show “House of Cards” look almost tame by comparison. The Herodians were incredibly well known and intriguing, but they were not popular people.

There was another optics problem for the Herodians: The Edomites.  Esau’s descendants were known as the Edomites. The Bible is full of stories concerning tensions, animosities, and hostilities between the descendants of Jacob and Esau. The Israelites and the Edomites were often at odds. The Herods were part Edomite. For many Jewish people, it was hard to accept a ruler of the Jewish people who shared genealogy with this oft hated group.

The Herods ruled the Jewish people on behalf of the Roman occupation. They were a far cry from the hoped for return of a King bringing deliverance from the Tribe of Judah. As servants of Imperial Rome they were viewed with contempt as puppets of the invading superpower. Their internal and external acts of violence left an impression of being volatile, unhinged, and erratic. The way of the Herods was through manipulation, power, wealth, and violence. All of this was covered by a thin veneer of religiosity. Many questioned whether their appeal to and display of religious devotion was anything more than playacting to appease the masses. But most of the people did not attribute Herodian’s rule to righteousness, but to both a devious wielding of power and cutthroat willingness to eliminate anyone who got in their way.

The Gospel of Matthew connects the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, a son from the house of David, whose birth was foretold by divine messengers and celestial signs, to the time of King Herod. Matthew is clearly indicating a contentious and tension filled time. Matthew’s readers would have known of the jealousy and insecurity which would have plagued Herod under such circumstances. They would have expected a combination of subterfuge, maneuvering, and malicious reprisal. They knew well how Herod’s house wielded power ruthlessly.

Thousands of years later, King Herod is a footnote in the life of a humble, peasant, traveling teacher and healer from Nazareth who was executed as an enemy of the state. We are reminded of the narrow Way of Jesus and the ever present temptations to deviate from it to embrace ego-centric ways of brute power, self-indulgence, violence, and selfish ambition. In Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” the Friar utters this warning to Romeo, “These violent delights have violent ends.” It is not only a warning to Romeo, but to anyone tempted to allow the way of Herod.