Saturday, December 19, 2015

In the Picture: The parents of the children of Bethlehem

The Massacre of the Innocents
Nicolas Poussin
Musee Condé

Read: Matthew 2.17-18
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.’ 

This is (I promise!) the last version of the Massacre of the Innocents in this series. It may seem that we have spent a disproportionate amount of time on it, but this story is central to Matthew’s account of the birth of Christ. It is the inevitable consequence of the Wise Men’s visit, and the event which drives the Holy Family into exile in Egypt. In this picture, by Nicolas Poussin, we see very clearly the anguish of the mothers as their children are killed before their eyes. The mother in the foreground desperately tries to prevent the soldier bringing his sword down on her child, but we can see she will not succeed. He is completely intent on his task, and seems to have no hesitation and feel no mercy or guilt. In the background we see a mother distraught with grief. Her child is already dead.
Matthew’s comment on this terrible story comes in the form of a quotation from the prophet Jeremiah, in which he talks about “Rachel, weeping for her children”. Rachel, the wife of Jacob, was a symbolic “matriarch” of her nation. The grief of the mothers of Bethlehem was not just theirs, but a grief shared by parents everywhere.

  • What is your response to this picture?
  • If you were there, what would you do?
  • How do you think this soldier can go about his business with such ruthless determination? Imagine you are him. What will he be thinking and feeling at the end of this brutal day?

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