“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.” (Matthew 2:18)
King Herod heard from wise men from the East that the king of the Jews would be born in Bethlehem. Because Herod always thought he was the only king of the Jews, he could not tolerate other kings in his place. He somehow had to kill the baby, the king-to-be, because the baby would eventually threaten his throne. But the angel of the Lord fled the baby and his family to Egypt. Not knowing that the baby had already left and not hearing any report from the wise men, Herod became furious and ordered to kill all the boys under two years in Bethlehem and its vicinity. A great force of death engulfed Bethlehem and the surrounding area. Innocent newborn boys all lost their lives. “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more” (v.18). The cries of parents who lost their children seem to penetrate through time and space and reach us.
On 29 October 2022, an unfathomable tragic disaster occurred in Itaewon, Seoul, Korea. Young people who could not go out freely during the Covid-19 pandemic for more than two years had gathered in Itaewon to enjoy the Halloween festival. It was obviously predictable that a lot more people would come to Itaewon than usual, but local and national governments did not come up with sufficient measures to keep citizens safe. Itaewon is an area where many foreigners gather. Itaewon is also where the newly elected president had recently installed his office. Many young people who came to have a good time with their loved ones could never return home alive because of the stampede. Death has swept through the heart of South Korea, a country boasting huge skyscrapers and advanced technology, taking the lives of about 157 young people.
Herod, the minion of the Roman Empire, took the lives of many children with his power. Even today, empires such as capitalism, neoliberalism, political hegemony, and militarism use the most vulnerable people as collateral to build up their powers. In the midst of wars, climate crises, and conflicts all over the world today, powerless, innocent, vulnerable people, especially young people, are risking their lives and future.
Where was God when the babies in Bethlehem were killed? Did God ignore Rachel’s cry from Ramah to save his child Jesus? Not at all. God grieved and endured the death of Jesus, who had survived the whirlwind of infanticide and eventually was crucified. God is still with us in every context of death and suffering. However, in God’s life, we see a glimpse of light that can enlighten all through the gospel. Let us resist the powers of life-threatening forces with the hope of life to protect young people around us.
God of life, do not turn your face away from the young people who are suffering helplessly. We pray that churches around the world can cherish young people and speak up against unjust structures and systems. Amen.
The Presbyterian Church of Korea