The Child and the Great
Jesus lay helpless and unaware. Herod, who built cities and ruled armies, was called Herod the Great.
No one called Jesus “the Great.” Jesus is repeatedly given a different title by Matthew: “Go and search carefully for the child ... the place where the child was ... they saw the child with his mother ... take the child and escape to Egypt ... take the child ... and go to the land of Israel ... so he got up, and took the child.”
The title “child”, especially in that day, would be a vivid contrast with “king” or “great”. In the ancient, status-ordered world, children were at the bottom of the ladder. In both Greek and Latin, the words for children meant “not speaking”; children lacked the dignity of reason.
Plato wrote about the “mob of motley appetites, pains and pleasures” one would find in children, along with slaves and women. Children were noted for fear, weakness and helplessness. “None among all the animals is so prone to tears,” wrote Pliny the Elder. To be a child was to be dependent, defenceless, fragile, vulnerable, at risk.
Those were not qualities associated with heroism in the ancient world. A hero was someone who made things happen. A child was someone things happened to ...
Herod the Great made things happen. Things happened to the child Jesus.
Hallelujah. Happy Christmas!