Felled by Adam, Uplifted by Advent

There must be something wrong with me. Why, after reading this Sunday’s gospel passage from Matthew about John the Baptist chastising the Pharisees and Sadducees, did I think of Groucho Marx? I can explain it, but it doesn’t make me any less weird.

After John tells these “vipers,” as he calls them, “the one who is coming after me is mightier than I; I am not worthy to carry his sandals,” it reminded me of Groucho’s self-deprecating  letter of resignation from the Friars Club in which he explains: “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as a member.”

Groucho did have a good point, though. Nobody—not even John the Baptist—could be worthy of what God wants to give us. In a different passage from Matthew, Jesus praises John the Baptist as the greatest person born. But he also says that the least in the kingdom of God is even greater than John. John knew this, which explains his rant against those people who came to him believing they were entitled to become members of God’s Kingdom.

Mankind’s problem is that we don’t accept each other, so why should God accept us? When, unlike Groucho, we believe we’re better than others, we prove our unworthiness. That’s why Paul advises the Romans “Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I say that Christ became a minister of the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness … so that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.”

There’s no room for our own judgment in God’s house. Jesus repeatedly tells us throughout the gospels to learn from the innocence of children. This was foreshadowed by Isaiah in today’s first reading as he describes the Kingdom of God:

“The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the cobra’s den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.
There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain.”

So on this second Sunday of Advent, let’s imitate Groucho and resign from the Club that Adam built for us—the club in which we deserve membership—and start preparing our application for residence in a place that we could never get into on our own. Thank God we know the owner’s son.

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