Herod and the Old PoliticsPosted: January 6, 2013
SLIDE 3: EPIPHANY
January 6th is Epiphany the celebration of the first revelation of Jesus to the outside world in the form of the Wise Men. In Spanish Speaking Countries it is El Dio de los Tres Reyes, or the Day of the Three Kings. In those countries the three Kings leave gifts for children on Epiphany. In countries where people open gifts on Christmas, Epiphany becomes the 12th Day of Christmas. The appointed lesson for the day is the visitation of the Three Kings from Matthew. The purpose of the Story of the Three Kings is to rival the claims of the Roman Empire. Suetonius the Roman historian claimed that a special star appeared to mark the birth of Augustus and that an important astrologer of the day claimed that Augustus’ horoscope had forecast that he would become the world ruler.
SLIDE 4: STAR OF BETHLEHEM
The Three Kings were from Babylon the recognized center of astrology in the ancient world. Making the claim that the magi had identified Jesus as the world ruler was a major coup, a one up on the Romans, for the early church. According to the Babylonian Star Charts the most probable candidate for the “star” in the Gospel of Matthew was a rare triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation Pisces that occurred in the year 7 BCE, which for the astrologers of the time would have signaled the birth of a new King of the Jews, hence Herod was worried.
SLIDE 5: ICTHYS
According to the Babylonian system of astrology Jupiter represented the supreme God of the universe, Saturn was the sign of the end times, and the constellation of Pisces was associated with the god of wisdom, life, and creation, as well as the Jewish people. Some scholars contend that the Babylonian astrological interpretation of the triple conjunction would have been “the end of the old world order is coming with the birth of a new king in Israel chosen by God.” Support for this theory can be found in the fact that early Christians used the astrological symbol for Pisces (Icthys), the fish, the constellation where the triple conjunction occurred, as a symbol for Jesus and of their new religion.
SLIDE 6: HEROD AND THE OLD POLITICS
The story of the three Kings is used by Matthew to bring Herod into the story. Herod the Great was a local ethnic ruler in the Roman Empire, and he was quite mad. The Romans didn’t really care how their native princes treated their people, so long as they kept firm control, collected taxes and sent money to Rome.
SLIDE 7: BRUTAL RULE
Herod was a brutal ruler. He made sure that he quelled any unrest. On one occasion after a rebellion in Galilee, Herod crucified over 2,000 rebels and lined the road from Galilee to Jerusalem with crosses, every hundred yards or so. He taxed his people into poverty in order to send money to Rome, and his taxes made the population all the more restive. On top of his brutality Herod was also paranoid. On one occasion he suspected a butler of plotting against him, so he had the butler tortured until the poor man in his pain named co-conspirators (who probably had not been plotting.) He then had the co-conspirators brought in and tortured until they named names. Finally, Herod had over 2000 people gathered in the arena in Jerusalem who he suspected of treason, and he unleashed his personal body guard of elite German soldiers to slaughter the 2,000 people, while he watched.
SLIDE 8: PRINCIPLES OF EMPIRE
Vilifying Herod was easy and popular. The point of the story is to contrast the Messiah of Love with the old politics of power and oppression. Jesus rules! For our purposes I think we can think of Herod as representing the “old politics,” where the ends justify the means, and the Principles of Empire rule:
Principles of Empire
1. Human beings need to be governed from the top down.
2. The top 1% of the Empire’s population will accumulate the majority of the power and wealth.
3. The Golden Rule: Those who have the gold make the rules.
4. Violence is the preferred method for enforcing order within an Empire.
SLIDE 9: ENDS JUSTIFY THE MEANS – FALLEN HUMAN NATURE
The ways of Empire persist — part of the fallenness of human nature – the ends justify the means. Greed, desire for power, using power to accumulate wealth at other’s expense are all still around today. On Monday night we all held hands, closed our eyes and jumped off of the fiscal cliff, or maybe we didn’t. It is hard to tell. I’m not sure what consequences there will be. Maybe we just haven’t hit bottom yet. Sort of like the guy who jumped off the Empire State Building and on the way down at the 40th floor he was heard to say, “so far so good.” I bring up the fiscal cliff, because it exemplifies our fallen human nature.
SLIDE 10: PRINCIPLES OF HUMAN NATURE
Here are some principles of human nature I see at play in the fiscal cliff negotiations. Never plan ahead or do something before the deadline. Always put off to tomorrow what you can do today. If you can’t win, make sure everyone loses. Blaming others is always easier than taking responsibility. When the chief obstacle to economic recovery is the inability of government to make a reasonable decision, then we cannot afford to continue the kind of dysfunctional government represented by the Old Politics.
SLIDE 11: PROGRESS
Now allow me to give credit where credit is due. In the past 2,000 years we have made some advances in civilization. At least in Western Nations we no longer enslave and execute the losers. We abolished formal institutionalized slavery 150 years ago with the 13th amendment. (We are now just working on wage slavery.) Rather than sending our old people off into the snows to die, we now have Social Security and Medicare. We even provide for some medical care for the indigent through Medicaid. And even though I cringe as I watch Congress fumbling with some kind of compromise to keep our government running, our legislators seem tame in comparison to the effort to pass of the 13th Amendment in the film Lincoln.
SLIDE 12: INTERCONNECTED WORLD
So we have made some progress, but our world has become more and more complicated and events move faster all the time. Our technology links us together faster and more comprehensively than ever before. As population and globalization grow we become increasingly interdependent, and influenced by events and people half a world away.
SLIDE 13: ZERO-SUM GAME – WIN-LOSE
The problem is the Old Politics treats human relationships as a zero-sum game. What’s that? Zero-sum games are an example of negotiations where the pie cannot be enlarged by good negotiation. These are win-lose relationships. If I win, you lose. If you win, I lose. Win-lose relationships can inspire poison pill tactics, where relationships become lose-lose. If I can’t win, I make sure everyone loses.
SLIDE 14: WIN-WIN SOLUTIONS
If we are to survive in an increasingly interconnected and complex future we will be forced in our own interest to find non-zero-sum solutions — win – win solutions instead of win – lose solutions. When we are willing to recognize our interdependence and give up our zero-sum mentality we will discover, we do better when other people do better as well. We can only win, when everybody wins.
But how do we change the very nature of politics and human relationships? I believe Jesus tried to show us the way. He was the new model of leadership born under a special star to show us the way to win-win relationships. So what did Jesus advocate?
SLIDE 15: SERVANT LEADERSHIP
Jesus taught the opposite of hierarchy, the first will be last and the last will be first. If you would be a leader you must be the servant of all. Leadership according to Jesus is for the purpose of serving the needs of others rather than self.
SLIDE 16: SHARING
Jesus advocated sharing. He opposed the concentration of land and wealth in the hands of a few. He advocated for fair wages and for sharing. When wealth and power become too highly concentrated in a society it leads to stagnation. Economic growth requires enough money in enough different hands to go out and spend it in order to drive the economy. When power is more widely shared the decision making process becomes more creative about how to seek innovative solutions rather than relying upon the same old answers.
SLIDE 17: NON-VIOLENCE
Jesus rejected the use of violence. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “And eye for an eye only leaves the whole world blind.” Just look at Israel and the Palestinians. Israel and the Palestinians have been playing a zero-sum game for over 65 years. There is no end in sight for their struggle. Both sides think they can win, and both of them are losing. They are captives of Herod and the Old Politics.
SLIDE 18: LOVE WINS
Strangely enough a couple of years ago I saw a sign of hope in of all places Bethlehem. When Jesus was born, Bethlehem was a small village about five miles from Jerusalem. Today Bethlehem and Jerusalem would run together, except there is an ugly concrete wall that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem. As I was coming out of an olivewood shop, where the owner gave me the nativity set on the altar this morning, I saw the triumph of hope over despair, the way of Jesus over the way of Herod. There on the wall in graffiti was the message – Love Wins.
Those who follow the way of Jesus insist that human relationships can change. We are not stuck with Herod and the zero-sum game of the old politics. We can transform the way we relate to one another by creating new relationships where everyone can win. We will have to change our consciousness from win-lose to win-win, but in an increasingly interdependent and interconnected world it is the only sane way forward.
SLIDE 19: LOVE RISES STRONGER THAN BEFORE – LOVE WINS
Jesus the leader born in a stable laid in a feed trough for animals represented a new day, where the meek will inherit the earth, and everyone will have enough because everyone shares. Of course the old politics sought to destroy the Holy Child, and 33 years later the old politics succeeded in crucifying Jesus. But resurrection trumps the old politics. God’s promise is that love rises stronger than before. God’s promise — Love Wins!