In this age of security insecurity, the best solution is the oldest: get to know your neighbors. That rule applies double if your neighbor’s house has a monster generator and a bomb shelter stocked with supplies. But even if you do get to know your neighbor, you have to worry about whether that neighbor knows and likes you enough to let you in once your own security is gone. Where likability is concerned, we can be our own worst enemies. Humans can be jerks.
That fact inspired cartoonist Walt Kelly, creator of the cartoon possum Pogo, to coin the legendary phrase: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
Though Kelly wrote this line in 1970, it’s always been the case, as we see in this Sunday’s first reading from Isaiah (Is 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7). Here we find the prophet praying to God to save us from ourselves—people who have forgotten the One who has the power to deliver our salvation.
Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways! Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people, all our good deeds are like polluted rags; we have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind. There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you; for you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt. Yet, O LORD, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.
The less connected we feel to those roots, the further away we get from the creation God intended us to be. Isaiah acknowledged that we no longer recognized our Creator, which is why, even today, we often seek salvation from strangers. By doing so, we become strangers to the One who fashioned us. Jesus, whom we now know to be God incarnate, took on our form to reintroduce us to our Creator. To do that he had to reintroduce us to ourselves, and he did that by way of parables. Just as humanity forgot our relationship to God in Isaiah’s book, Sunday’s gospel reading (Mk 13:33-37) includes a parable demonstrating how our Master vets the strangers among his servants to ensure the security of His Kingdom.
It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.
After Jesus died so that we may live for the inheritance intended for us, it became St. Paul’s mission to keep us from forgetting the love of God and its link to the love of our neighbors, as is evident in Sunday’s second reading (1 Cor 1:3-9 ). That love is our security. It is proof of our identity and serves as the currency of the Kingdom God secured for us.
In him you were enriched in every way, with all discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul concludes that we were called to fellowship with God the Son. That means we are no longer strangers, and in fact, co-heirs. We are called to protect from strangers the kingdom we’re inheriting. Let’s always remember Isaiah’s prayer for protection from the stranger threatening to emerge from within us.