By Lindsay Barrett-Adler
I opened my Book of Common Prayer to find today’s Gospel and happily came upon the following verses from Matthew 22, translated by Eugene Peterson. Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence. This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: Love others as well as you love yourself.”
Scripture can be fraught with some pretty confusing and offensive texts, but here we find an apparently simple directive: love on people. By loving on people, you’re loving on God. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like Jesus is being a bit of a Captain Obvious here. Of course we should love everyone, would anyone seriously argue that it’s virtuous to hate others or that doing so would bring us any closer to God? Thanks for the advice Jesus, I’ll be sure to remember that it’s always preferable to be nice to other people.
But, as usual, a quick and simple reading of this verse doesn’t get to the heart of Christ’s message. Advent is a time for us to wake up, to get ready, to prepare for a baby to break down all of our presumptions and self delusions. If I’m honest this Advent, there are some changes I need to make in order to really love God, by seriously loving other people. I can hold a grudge and let that most cancerous form of hate, resentment, fester in my soul. I can also be impatient with others and ready to jump to unfair conclusions. I am great at building walls to protect myself, even when they close me off from those outside.
Maybe I’m not as great at loving people as I thought.
When I discovered that two antonyms to the word “love” are “indifference” and “neglect”, Christ’s words became even more challenging. Advent seems like the perfect time for us to beat our chests in front of the temple and cry out, “Indifferent? Me?! But I gave that Salvation Army ringer $5 and donated 2 brand new toys to our office Christmas drive.” While charity for the one month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is wonderful, it is not enough. Not when, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1in 5 children live below the poverty line. Not when, according to the NCAAP, the U.S prison population quadrupled from roughly 500,000 in 1980 to 2.3 million people in 2008 and a disproportionate number of prisoners are people of color. Not when our neighbors in the City of Brotherly Love will die this winter from exposure, unable to find shelter in freezing temperatures.
Indifference and neglect are tempting, and easy, ways to live in today’s painful and broken world. I find myself thinking that it would be easier to lock my door, close the blinds, and keep the outside world at bay. This is seductive, but also completely different from the way God tells us to be in the world. We are Advent people. We are called to run out into the world and shout, “Wake up! Get ready! The world is about to change forever!” We are called to stir the pot, to disrupt complacency, and fight for justice. Christ’s call to love others is dangerous, radical, and absolute. We love others by allowing ourselves to be as vulnerable as a lamb, but as fiercely defensive of our neighbors as the lion laying beside him.
This Advent, I pray for the strength and courage to really love God, by seriously loving on people; It’s not as easy as you’d think.
Lindsay serves as Program Director and Associate for Young Adult Ministries.