After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
The Herod we read about today was Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee and Perea. Although he held the title of tetrarch, not king, he was popularly known as King Herod. Like other men of his breed, Herod had an obsession with power. He sought absolute control, demanding unconditional obedience from his subjects. He catapulted into power by virtue of three qualities that he possessed: clarity of vision, cunningness, and an extremely cruel disposition. Herod knew what he wanted and was prepared to do whatever it took to achieve it. This can be a good quality when used for the right reasons; otherwise, it can be a terrible quality.
When Herod was only 25 years old, he became governor of Galilee using a combination of influence and political maneuvering. A master manipulator, he used situations and people to achieve what he wanted. As an example, he got married several times. Seven of these marriages were to women who were very influential politically. He also didn't hesitate to use lethal force against those who stood against him. His rise to power came about by the total annihilation of the guerrillas that threatened him.
Little wonder then, that when Herod heard wise men from the East speaking about a child who was born "king of the Jews," he was terrified that he faced a challenger. Consequently, he tried to find out from the wise men who the child was so he could have him killed. But the wise men tricked him. Infuriated, Herod had all the children in and around Bethlehem killed (see Matthew 2:16). Terrible, yes? Now, not everyone becomes as powerful as Herod, but many of us would like to have power over other people: to dominate them and to be able to control them. This is why we have abusive spouses, overbearing parents, bossy bosses, bullying leaders.
But this is the way of the world. The way of Jesus is very different. It is one of humble subservience. "Even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve," he once said when the apostles were jockeying for positions of power. And, not long after, he dropped to his knees before sinful man and washed his feet in an extraordinary display of humility. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he then asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. (John 13:12-15).
So, who do we want to be like: Herod or Jesus?
May the Spirit be with you.