And They Returned by Another Route…to Avoid Herod
(The Jesus Diary Continues)
It was raining.
Not a downpour, but a soft, gentle mist filled the air early this morning. The Magi sat comfortably in their booths atop their camels. The placid animals seemed unencumbered by either their human cargo or the weather. In fact they seemed to relish the cooling comfort of the moisture-laden air.
The Magi's underlings, however, were not pleased. They had begun loading the troupe's impedimenta in the early dampness. I volunteered to help and in the process gathered valuable information from the disgruntled crew. As the work progressed, Izmir, who appeared to be in charge of the operation, sidled up to me with a worried look on his dusky face.
"I like this place," he said. "While our masters were visiting your little king, we enjoyed some gracious hospitality and generous drafts of wine from Amnon and his staff. I'm afraid a few of my men had a little too much. They will suffer for it today."
"I'm happy you enjoyed yourselves," I replied. "Amnon runs a good inn."
"And our masters were pleased as well. They had seen what they came to see. But later on, when they were talking about their day," he continued, "we listened in on their conversations. Remember, they are very intelligent men. They never stop learning. They are curious about everything. That's why they came here. They wanted to know what the star meant.
"But now they are afraid of what will happen when Herod finds out he has been tricked. He is expecting them to tell him where to find this new king so he can come and adore him too. They all knew that was a lie.
"They aren't exactly sure who this new child is or will become: a real king, a prophet, a lawgiver, or a dynamic civil and military leader, or something more. They are enthused about the idea of a son of David born in the City of David. I'm not sure what that even means. They expressed a hope that someone would maintain a record of his activities as he grows up to be a man."
"I intend to do just that," I said.
He turned suddenly morose. "But I warn you, someday Herod will come marching into town with his retinue and I fear what he may do."
Before I could question him about what action Herod might take, Balthasar snapped his fingers. Everyone jumped into action. Trumpets blared, drums throbbed and the shofar moaned anew. The caravan was soon on its way. I waved goodbye, my eyes glistening with respect for these honorable and wise men.
True to Izmir's prediction, it was no more than a week later when Herod's advance men burst into town. Herod, as king, had the same concerns about violence and poisonings as the Magi, but his team had none of the finesse and sophistication of the Magi's crew. Houses were commandeered for Herod and his bodyguards, who, we were told, were even now on their way to Bethlehem. His own cooks and Praegustators took over one of the other inns in town. I felt fortunate that they did not think of staying at Amnon's inn.
Not surprisingly I knew a few of Herod's advance men. One, whose name was Og, was a giant of a man, a hopeless alcoholic and renowned blabbermouth. I had nevertheless cultivated his friendship since he was a reliable source for regal gossip and intrigue, both of which flourished in Herod's court.
"He's hopping mad!" Og shouted when he saw me. "When he learned those camel traders tricked him he flew into a rage such as I had never seen. He has declared this new king his most hated enemy. He swears that there will never be another king in Israel as long as he is alive. I have never seen him so angry."
"Why would he be threatened by a baby," I asked, "who's too young to do anything against him? It'll be at least twenty, maybe thirty years before he could be a threat. Herod will be long gone by then."
"He doesn't care. He's insecure and whiney, always has been. This has pushed him over the edge. He feels betrayed and stupid because these foreigners knew about this before he did. Of course he never reads or feels the need to learn anything new, so how could he possibly know?"
"What do you think he plans to do once he arrives?" I asked.
"I don't know, but I do know that he's sending a whole cohort of some of his most violent and brutal men, famous for mindless cruelty. They are not coming to adore this child that's for sure. I would suggest you find the father and mother and tell them to take their child and get out of town." Yelling at some of his workers, Og walked away.
I shuddered at the dichotomy within mankind; how good and evil can coexist. On the one hand were charming, wise and respectful royalty from a foreign land who undertook a lengthy journey to honor a child they knew nothing about. And then there was Herod, a psychopath who hated they very thought of him. What type of sickness enters into a man to enable him to harbor hatred and murderous thoughts against an innocent child?
Despite all the prayers and hymns, blessings, praises and sacrifices in all the world, evil still lurks among us.
It was with these terrible thoughts colliding in my mind that I rushed to Amnon's shack to warn Joseph and Mary. My heart was pounding at the thought of what Herod might do. I was filled with care and concern for this Holy Family. I discovered that I had begun to love them.
Exhausted, I arrived at the stable. It was empty. They were gone.