A reflection on Matthew 2.16-18:
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
There is something very powerful about this image of grief and lamentation so deep that it cannot be silenced. It’s an uncomfortable image. When confronted with such raw anguish, our first reaction is often to turn away. Or perhaps to rush to do something to try to make it stop, to take away the awful pain. But very often that isn’t what’s needed. People in such extremes of distress have every right to refuse to be comforted. Sometimes all we can do is acknowledge the awfulness of the situation and sit with one another in the darkness. That is true compassion, ‘suffering-with’.
And aren’t there some situations where we should refuse to be comforted, some things so dreadful that they cannot and should not be minimised or dismissed? For those caught up in it, the Slaughter of the Holy Innocents must have been one such horror. But there are surely things in the world today about which, if we truly stopped to think about them, we too might refuse to be comforted. Not least the suffering and death of innocent children the world over.
And that is as it should be. Being comforted can be good, but it can also lead to complacency. When we refuse to be comforted, when we exercise true compassion, we begin to act and to pray in ways which will change the world. And yes, the cost is high. Our hearts may break. But so too, I think, does God’s heart at the suffering, grief and lamentation of God’s children.