Advent, the season of waiting and reflection that leads up to the glorious day of Christmas, begins this Sunday. Many of us will be decorating our homes, lighting candles, churches will have wreathes set up and the old carol books will get dusted off. It is a special time of year. It can also be a painful time of year as family dynamics become impossible to ignore and sometimes we will even find ourselves in positions where others purposefully try to make us seem foolish or bad or less-than.
The story captured in Matthew 22:36-40 might be a useful one to many of us as we gather together with others this holiday season. The Lawyer sets out to trick Jesus, to set him up, to watch him fail. Sometimes people do this to us, they ask questions we cannot answer or would like to avoid, they force issues to come up when we might like them either kept quiet or would have preferred to choose “the right moment” to bring them up. Often people do this to deflect attention from themselves or because they are hurting in some way and misery loves company, but in the moment it can be difficult to find such compassion, especially if we are embarrassed or thrown off kilter by the conversation.
I take hope in this: from that moment of intended evil comes one of the most famous teachings of Jesus, the summarizing of the whole law (600+ rules!!!) into a soundbite long before soundbites and click bate existed:) This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” It is one of the more famous drop-the-mic sayings of Jesus and much can be said about applying it. What I am reflecting on is the context of the saying, the way Jesus was handling a social situation wherein someone wanted to make him look foolish and, like a kung-fu master, Jesus turned it around and looked brilliant instead, without harming or attacking the other.
My hunch is that over the holidays we will have many opportunities to make decisions. We can choose to be the sort of people we want to be, good, kind, generous, understanding, the sorts of people we might believe the Divine calls us to be, or we can accept the bait, be ornery, distant, malcontent.
The options are always in front of us, but never mores than when we interact with someone out to harm us or make us look foolish or whatever. Mostly hurt people hurt people and so we want to be nice and calm, don’t we? And yet…AND YET we can get angry or sad at such times and choose paths that are beneath us and off our mark.
We won’t be perfect at this, I know I won’t, but we don’t have to be. The King Fu switcheroo of Jesus in the story is a for-shadowing of the ultimate one he will pull, turning the cross, humankind at our worst, into grace and eternal life and peace for all who would call upon his name.
Still, let’s give it a go at being civil, shall we? And watch for opportunities to bring truth without harm into many situations. If we are really perceptive we might even be able to recognize the grace of God at work in the world in most surprising ways.