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Gospel Reflections » International

The Holy Innocents

December 28, 2012

It is said that there are more refugees in the world today than at any time in history. All too often, the first to be displaced are the poor, victimised and discriminated against by those in power, forced to flee their homes because of economics or politics, left with no place to lay their head.

Jesus knew what it was to be poor and to be a refugee, from his very earliest days. His mother Mary and father Joseph had to take him and flee from Judea to Egypt, because of an insane, bloodthirsty ruling by King Herod to kill all first-born sons.

An angel warned Joseph in a dream to take the family to safety. But many more families were not given this warning. Many innocent children were put to death. We call these ‘the Holy Innocents’. How many were there? Did any others escape the genocide ? Where did Joseph and his family hide through all the intervening years? We don’t have the answers.

We do know, as history has shown us again and again, that ordinary people often lose their lives through no fault of their own. They just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Millions of the poor are like that, the victims of history. No protection against malnutrition and disease; no compensation for the loss of their jobs, their homes, their livelihoods and savings; they are often stray victims of violence; their lives can be said to be cheap.

But in the Lord’s eyes, where “not one sparrow falls to the ground without my heavenly Father knowing it,” their death doesn’t go unnoticed. These young child-martyrs were witnesses to the birth of the young Jesus. In a sense, they protected him by giving up their lives. They are a reminder that the Lord chooses the frail and the ordinary for his mission, a mission proclaimed by the lives of ordinary folk, and often by their death as well.

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