All of us have experienced dissonance between words and actions. Like a musician who plays a wrong note, we cringe whenever our behavior does not match our beliefs. Sometimes we don’t see it right away – we all have blind spots that keep us from recognizing our faults. Our enemies may seek to use our faults to snare us, catching our wrong notes and playing them back over and over in order to challenge whether we are musicians at all! Hopefully our faults are revealed to us by a friend who loves us and seeks to help us play more effectively. I see that approach being revealed in today’s lesson from 1 John.
Being a follower of Jesus is not just about saying the right words. What we do – and what kind of people we are – does indeed matter! If we are honest about ourselves, we know that it is possible to get off the path of light. Sin is a reality that we cannot simply overlook. But fortunately, this letter also tells us some good news indeed: Jesus provides the way for our return.
Saint Augustine explained the significance of Jesus being our Advocate as follows:
“If you were to have a case scheduled before some judge and you contacted a lawyer, you would be upheld, supported by the lawyer, and he would act on your case as best he could. And if, before he finished [preparing your case], you hear that he’s going to come as the judge, how you would rejoice! For the very one who just a little while ago was going to be your lawyer is now going to be your judge!” (Augustine in His Own Words, p. 149, Fr. Wm. Harmless, S.J.)
In other words, the judicial system is rigged in our favor. How joyful we should be, then, in knowing that Jesus is our Advocate!
The psalmist’s verse, “Our soul has been rescued like a bird from a fowler’s snare,” becomes particularly meaningful when we think of our failings and shortcomings as snares, which remove us from the freedom for which God created us. The life of freedom set before us is not license to live as we want, but a return to our senses. We get to become who we are – members of the Body of Christ. Thanks be to God for rescuing us through his Son, whose incarnation we celebrate at this time of year.
The Gospel today presents a sobering account of Herod’s slaughter of the innocents. Herod was apparently so fearful of the future, so threatened by the prospect that he may not control his destiny, that he chose to murder innocent children. Sadly, such behavior is all too common in human history. Hubris leads us to all kinds of evil. In contrast, the humility of our Lord leads instead to real and lasting life. Another sermon of Saint Augustine sums up this contrast between our hubris and Jesus’ humility so well:
“Once, back in paradise, you were so fluent [in speaking] that you named every living thing. (Gen. 2:19-20) For your sake, however, your Creator lay speechless and could not even call His mother by her name. You lost yourself in the trackless groves of fruit trees by neglecting obedience. He obediently came into the narrow confines of mortality so that, by dying, He might search for you who were dead. You, though you were human, wished to be God and so got lost (Gn.3:5). He, though He was God, wished to be human that he might find what had gotten lost. Human pride brought you to such a depth that only divine humility could raise you up again.” (Id., p. 129).
Let each of us take into account the humility of our Lord and follow him in like manner on the path of light, seeking forgiveness when we stray, and having fellowship with one another so that we encourage one another in our journey. Amen.