This morning, I read a reflection that indicated that Herod’s order to kill the male children in Bethlehem was an act of homage to Jesus. I had to step back from this statement to ponder what it meant. To me, the word homage is synonymous with worship, and Herod’s murder of innocent boys was not an act of worship.
As I stepped back to ponder this, I came to understand that the Greek word used in the Biblical passage related to Herod and the three wisemen was proskyneō, which is a verb that means to kiss a hand in reverence. In fact, the word has the connotation of a dog licking the hand of its master.1 The word has to do with respect for one of greater authority.
We know that Herod was not an official king of Israel. He was from an aristocratic family that had converted to Judaism roughly 50 years earlier. He was appointed by the Roman government, and was definitely not of the line of David.2 Thus, when the three wisemen tell him that the anticipated king of the Jews had been born, he was thrown into such a frenzy that he ordered the death of many innocent boys in the hopes of killing the threat to his rule. Thus, while Herod’s actions were not respectful, they definitely recognized Jesus as one of equal or greater authority. He felt threatened by one who’s authority to rule was greater than his own.
When we ponder the inappropriate homage Herod pays Jesus, many of us will see ourselves in this response. Our actions may not be as severe as ordering the death of children. At the same time, we do not want to be the dog licking the hand of the master. That is a crass way of saying that we want to be our own authority. We want to be our own king. A great deal of the spiritual journey is recognizing our resistance to his rule, and learning to surrender to the king of kings. It is through a growing sense of humility that we make progress in our efforts to bow before him; we allow our will to be bent in favor of his authority. It is in coming to see the truth of our littleness before his greatness that our humility grows. Humility cannot grow if we cannot see our own inappropriate acts of homage.
Spending time with the Holy Spirit reflecting on your own reaction to Jesus. How do you pay him homage? Can you see evidence of a similar reaction to Jesus? Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you both how you pay proper homage and where your actions might be more akin to that of Herod. Find the tension of your own internal war related to recognizing Jesus as king. Do not allow shame to keep you from reflecting on the truth. The Holy Spirit wants to perfect your acts of homage and worship. He can only do so if you stand in his light. We do not like to see our flaws, so we create defenses. On top of our personal defenses, the devil works to blind us to truth because if we allow the Holy Spirit to heal them, he has less opportunities to trip us up. As you see where your homage is less than perfect, sit with this truth in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Look upon him as a child with a broken toy, and seek his assistance in fixing what is broken. Pray for the openness to allow him to be your King.
2 L. I. Levine, “Herod the Great (Person),” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 161.