The Herod Complex

Merry Christmas!

On the way home from Mass last Saturday night, I asked my husband what he took away from the Mass. He shared and then asked me the same question. I am sure he wish he hadn't asked because I went into a long discourse about the biblical character King Herod. Here is a link to the readings at the Mass. Pay special attention to the gospel passage from Matthew.

The story begins with three magi asking some folks in Jerusalem where they can find the King of the Jews. I imagine these three men are asking with great joy and a high level of anticipation at the thought of meeting the long-awaited King. How do the people respond? "Greatly troubled," is what scripture says. The people of Jerusalem and King Herod, who overheard the inquiring magi, were shaking in their boots. Trying not to loose his cool, King Herod assembles a bunch of big shots to ask these three overly chipper men where this 'Christ' was to be born. The magi answered very matter-of-fact that he was to be born in Bethlehem of Judea. As they concluded their confident declaration about the birth of Christ, King Herod, out of fear no doubt, called the magi off to meet with him alone. King Herod wanted more details, and once the joyful magi shared details about this star they saw and their plan to meet the King of the Jews he sent them off to go and find the child. But King Herod also asked that they return to him with the whereabouts of the Christ. King Herod told the magi that he desired to know where Christ was so that he too could go and "do him homage."

No doubt the magi left King Herod full of joy at the thought of returning to Jerusalem once they found the King of the Jews to share Christ with King Herod and the people of Jerusalem. The magi were eager to evangelize and share the good news. However, God saw the heart of King Herod and while the magi had good intentions of sharing baby Jesus with the king, God knew his intentions were not so pure and noble. King Herod was threatened by the birth of Jesus which begs the question, why? Why is this powerful and noble king so afraid of a tiny baby?

I believe the answer lives within our own hearts. The Herod Complex! King Herod, like all of us from time-to-time and apart from divine grace, feel threatened by the Prince of Peace and desire to be the hotshot on the block (ego anyone?). We want ourselves to be the "reason for the season," not some baby. We are threatened by another's joy not brought about by our own good nature or deeds. We want to be the cause of others joy and the savior of their sorrows. We have a tendency to want to be God instead of wanting to serve and be loved by God. We want to be the powerful and almighty, not to need a powerful and almighty. We have The Herod Complex. King Herod met these three zealous and joyful men talking to his people about the birth of another King and immediately his red flags went up. "Hold the phone! Who is this King bringing so much joy, newness, life, and excitement to these men's lives? I'm the only one allowed to do that. I must keep these men close and find out exactly who they are talking about." Upon further investigation King Herod, full of pride, masks his insecurity and feelings of threat by pretending to care about the baby Jesus. The saying that comes to mind, keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Praise God, He was one step ahead of King Herod. The magi did not return to Jerusalem. I wonder if the magi were saddened by this divine instruction and curious why they couldn't go back and share Christ with the people. Either way, God's justice and mercy prevailed again and the infant Jesus, his mother Mary, foster-father Joseph, and the three magi were all kept safe from the evil intentions of King Herod.

The Herod Complex, fueled by fear and a forgotten understanding of divine truths. Our Herod Complex would have us think that God is a threat to our freedom, success, pleasure, and life. Our Herod Complex would also have us perceive others as a threat to our freedom, success, pleasure, and life. When acting out of my Herod Complex I am sad at your successes, jealous because of your blessings, domineering and controlling because if I don't exhort my power over you then you will become more powerful than me, trying to end your life and its threat to my freedom, and hoarding stuff for my own warehouse out of fear that I won't have enough. The Herod Complex is everywhere, at work, at home, at school... wherever there are humans there is bound to be a display of the Herod Complex.

Luckily for us, the magi have come to show us the way back to the light of truth and the path to freedom. The magi discovered that a thirst for power, pleasure, wealth, and fame will only leave us wanting more, and that we can have hope and true peace in the midst of our human temptations and struggles. Our hope for restoration, health, and healing is found under the bright light of a shining star... the King of the Jews. Now we need to pray for the willingness to trust that the magi got it right, King Herod got it wrong, and for the grace to follow after the truth so that we might become all that God created us to be!

New Year's Resolution: Get over your Herod Complex!