History tends to repeat itself. Back when Julius Caesar was in charge of Rome his son-in-law tried to wrest control from him. Caesar quelled Pompey’s attack but both he and his leadership were nervous. They saw the civil war as a sign of vulnerability. In 46 BC, the Senate voted to make Julius Caesar a dictator, turning Rome from a republic of the people into an empire. For whatever reason, these folks believed that an ambitious and powerful dictator would keep them safe.
It seems that when we feel vulnerable we tend to double down on a quest for power. But power is usually a corrosive agent. Caesar was no exception. He began large building programs and inflicted higher taxes to pay for his grand visions. His governors took the brunt of the people’s unrest and eventually the very people who said they wanted a powerful dictator took matters into their own hand, literally, and stabbed him to death. (Who can forget, “Et tu, Brute?”) Offed by his bff.
This didn’t result in a return to a republic. The ringleader Cassius took charge. Not one to learn from the past, Cassius demanded a steep payment to prove loyalty (evidently he did learn that loyalty is elusive – better to the reward for it up front). Herod was one of those guys who used his skills and instincts as a leader to survive the regime change. Herod was a paranoid guy and he mercilessly got rid of anyone that posed even an imagined threat to his kingdom.
This is where we are when we enter into the New Testament. Herod is ruling Galilee with cunning and ruthless intent. Herod, coming from the Edomites south of Judea was part Israelite – a heritage he took seriously. He was a man of two worlds – one religious and the other political, both were at odds with the other. When push came to shove, Herod learned toward Rome and eventually he was named King of Judea, which by degree made him “king of the Jews”. The Israelites are recovering from a period of exile and the community is wondering – is this all there is? Will we always be ruled by Rome? Are God’s promises true? Still, a remnant of faith remained.
Today, people talk about the dying church. Religious leaders take a “census” and the results are not to their liking. And yet a remnant remains. Recently someone scoffed and said to me, “Teresa, come on, no one goes to church anymore. Your faith community is unsustainable.” Ok. I hear you. But this I remember too: really powerful people with a massive amount of resources believed that God had abandoned his promises way back when and look what happened THEN – in walks Jesus. I believe I will take my chances with my particular band of remnant faithful.