Rachael Weeps

Editor’s Note: For many Christian traditions, the season of Epiphany begins on January 6 and ends on the first day of Lent. 

One of the benefits of growing up a Latine child in the U.S. is that we get presents twice during the Christmas season. Like everyone else, we get gifts on December 25th when Santa visits. But on January 6th, El Dia de Los Reyes (Epiphany Day), we also get gifts when the Three Kings visit. Just as the three wise men brought presents to Jesús, so do they bring good Latine children presents.

Late to witness the birth of Jesús, the Magi showed up twelve days after finally stopping to ask directions from King Herod. Centuries later, in preparation for their arrival, we would go outside and cut grass, place it in three bundles along with a bucket of water, and leave it in front of the house for the camels to eat and drink.

The joy the three kings’ initial visit signified soon turned to grief. The hope they came to celebrate became hopelessness for the ordinary parents of Palestine who witnessed the murder of their children. The Jewish king Herod, reviled by the Hebrews of his time for his allegiance with the colonizing power of Rome, feared having his authority challenged.

To hold on to power, Herod sought Jesús’ death by having all the children of Bethlehem slaughtered. Reading the messianic story into the New Testament, Jeremiah 31:15 was soon interpreted as a prophecy foretelling the massacre conducted by Herod.And the Lord thus says:

  “A cry is heard on high (ramah),
  Mourning and bitterly weeping.
  Rachael is lamenting her children;
  Refusing to be comforted for her children,
  For they are no more.”

Rachael, as we know, was Jacob’s favorite of two wives. While traveling, she went into labor with her second child, a difficult birth that led to her death. She “was buried on the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem” (Gen 35:19-20). Her child Benjamin survived. Jeremiah would see Rachael as the symbolic mother of the southern kingdom, mainly because Jerusalem is where the tribe of Benjamin settled.

When I was in Bethlehem, I decided to walk to Rachael’s tomb, which was once a ten-minute walk. Unfortunately, my path was blocked by the Israeli West Bank Wall. According to the Bible, Rachael’s tomb is in Bethlehem. But the Apartheid Wall separating Palestinians from ever achieving self-determination obstructed my path.

On September 11, 2002, the Israeli security cabinet decided, with no input from Palestinians, to incorporate Rachael’s tomb on the Israeli side of the wall, claiming the area to be part of Jerusalem. This destroyed the

Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado, and a contributing correspondent at Good Faith Media.

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