History repeated itself already in 2020 as Trump attempted to start a war with Iran amid his impeachment proceedings. The last U.S. president to face impeachment, Bill Clinton, also dropped bombs in Iraq during his trial, deflecting attention and delaying the process.
This cycle is not new. In fact, it is at least as old as Jesus.
Last Sunday, churches around the globe celebrated the holiday of Epiphany, which celebrates the visit of the Magi (also known as the Three Kings) to the infant Christ.
King Herod, the ruler of Israel/Palestine in that time, is the villain of the Epiphany story. Herod was a grandiose and paranoid tyrant, known to have assassinated rivals, switched allegiances and even defaced the Jewish Temple with a massive Golden Eagle, the emblem of Rome.
During their visit, the Magi unintentionally stoked Herod’s paranoia when they inquired with him as to where they could visit the newborn king. He soon sent out his secret police to begin a mass campaign of killing babies.
The lesson I take away is this: When rulers are threatened, they respond with violence.
This is not merely a successful distraction tactic, it is also a fundamental principle of societies where rulers exist at all. The rulers produce violence as a means to suppress insecurity. Our society trains us to believe this is the best way — the only reasonable way — to behave when faced with uncertainty.
The impulse to lash out and destroy when under threat is something that most of us subconsciously practice.
Like many stories in the Bible, there is a subversive message to this story. Contained within the Epiphany narrative, are not just one, but two alternative responses to threats.
Like Herod, the Magi are powerful and wealthy.
Yet when they discern from the stars that a new power is rising — instead of fear, they turn to wonder. The unknown does not repel them; it compels them. They leave their known, comfortable worlds to travel into mystery, and when they find it, (according to the original Greek text) they kiss the ground.
Also, when Herod attempts to coerce them to reveal the location of the Christ child, they do not comply.
In these days, as the inevitable drum-beat of war and chest thumping of patriotism rise higher and higher, and we begin to fear and distrust enemies foreign and domestic, may we break free from the cycle of violence taught to us by rulers, and turn to the example of the Magi. May we practice courageous wonder and non-cooperation with Empire.
Read the full Jan. 8-14 issue.
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