“Rachel Weeping for her Children”
When the prophet Jeremiah spoke these words some six centuries before Matthew’s Gospel was produced, he was talking about something that had happened in the not too distant past, namely, the carrying off of Israelite exiles by the Assyrians in the late eighth century BCE, a deportation for which Ramah was a departure point; “Rachel” in that case wept because her children—the Joseph tribes—had experienced the deaths or deportations of most of their members.
Matthew picked Jeremiah’s words up and used them to try to bring some meaning to what has come to be known as the “Slaughter of the Innocents” by Herod’s armies in his simultaneously crazed and calculated effort to kill the infant Jesus; perhaps Matthew was attracted to the text by the tradition that Rachel’s burial place was near Bethlehem.
Regardless, Matthew’s use of Jeremiah’s words, even though he took them out of their historical context, is entirely appropriate, since the Bethlehem tragedy certainly elicited the same kind of grief as the one referenced by Jeremiah because it was the same kind of tragedy, namely, the destruction of people and of family and tribal and national bonds by people whose cruelty was fueled by their quest to preserve and extend their power.
It is a terrible sadness that the destruction of children and other innocent people and the destruction of family and tribal and national bonds still happens in this “civilized” world of ours because of the crazed and cruel and calculated actions of people who are intent on preserving and expanding their power—and because of the apathy of good people who let them get away with it.
We still hear Rachel weeping.
Forgive us, Lord—and lead us to do something about it.
“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’” (Matthew 2:18).