Thursday, December 6, 2018

Advent Reflections: Not All Who Say to Me 'Lord, Lord'...

Today’s reading in the Catholic lectionary comes from Matthew, chapter 7. Jesus says to his disciples: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven.”

Jesus doesn’t mince his words here. He doesn’t care how much someone proclaims to follow him. What matters is conforming ourselves to the will of God. And what is that will?

Micah 6:8 gives us a clue: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

To enact justice for those who are denied it, and to treat others with mercy, is to love our neighbors. To walk humbly with God is to do as Mary and Jesus both did, trusting in his will for us and our lives.

And thus in that verse we hear echoed Jesus’ words about the two greatest commandments: to love God with all your heart, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

We bury Jesus under mountains of dogma and theology, but when you get down to it, his message was actually quite simple: Always lead with love. The world is harsh and cruel, and it already has an overabundance of people who are ready to inflict pain, settle scores, lash out, ostracize, hate, rebuke, and kill. Followers of Christ are called to a far more radical path – to bring gentleness, forgiveness, reconciliation, and love to a world that resists those values.

And why should we do it? Certainly not to win acclaim for ourselves. Not to make ourselves appear holier than our neighbors, as the Pharisee did in the presence of the lowly publican. Not even to try to gain some kind of supernatural favor. Faith without works is indeed dead, but nobody has set a required minimum for how many works you have to do in exchange for a ticket to heaven.

No, we simply do these things because they are the right thing to do.

Moreover, our good actions help us discover the kingdom of God right here, right now. When Jesus said “the kingdom of God is within you,” he meant that all we had to do was open our hearts to it, to the love of God, which we can then in turn radiate out to the rest of the world.

And all we have to do to get started is place our faith in Christ. Doing so, as he explained in the passage from Matthew, is like building your house on stone to withstand whatever storms will come. He wants us to hear his words and put them into action. When we do, we show that we trust in him. As this admonition comes at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, it may look like a tall order. And certainly, we will all stumble and fall; we will all fall short of the ideals he set out for us to follow. But there’s nothing stopping us from brushing ourselves off and trying, again and again, striving always to become perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.    

In short: Always lead with love. A good lesson to remember in this season when God took on a human form to show us how to do just that.

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