Original post at http://sacredise.com/blog/?p=1226
A Lectionary Reflection on Luke 3:7-18 for Advent 3C
You have probably heard of the wonderful story of the airline attendant who was checking passengers in for their flight. The lines of passengers were long, and so a rather self-important man made his way to the front of the line, ignoring the others who were waiting to be checked in. He declared that he was in a rush, that he had to be on the flight, and that it had to be first class. The attendant politely informed him that he would have to go to the back of the line and wait his turn. He got angry and shouted at her, “Do you know who I am?” Grabbing her microphone, the attendant announced to the airport, “Attention please. We have a passenger at Gate 17 who does not know who he is. If anyone is able to help this man identify himself, please come to gate 17.”
The man glared at her and then swore, “#@$% you!”
“I’m sorry sir,” she answered, “but you’ll have to wait in line for that too.”
As the man finally retreated, the other passengers in the line applauded.
It seems that a sense of entitlement is growing in certain segments of our world. It is not uncommon for people to find excuses to treat others with the kind of disdain this man showed. Whether because of their wealth, or their status, their position of authority, or their celebrity, we can all tell stories of those who claim to deserve special treatment. In South Africa, right now, we are in the middle of a debate about our president’s financial management, and the role of the banks who supported his lavish lifestyle and ignored his failures to pay debts because of his special value as a customer. What is interesting is that the ruling ANC believes that these issues – which arose as a result of investigations into the cost to tax payers of improvements to the president’s dwelling in his home town of Nkandla – have nothing to do with the voting public of this country. As president, he is entitled to special treatment it seems.
In the light of this it is interesting to see how John the Baptist treats those who claim a similar sense of entitlement. In the Gospel reading for today, John anticipates the people’s response to his strong words confronting their injustice. “Don’t even think about saying to yourselves, Abraham is our father. I tell you that God is able to raise up Abraham’s children from these stones.” (Luke 3:8 CEB). Some of John’s hearers seemed to feel that their heritage gave them a special place in God’s realm and God’s purposes, but John makes it very clear that this is not the case. I must confess that I get frustrated when I hear of Christian who claim that because they follow Jesus they have a special place in “heaven” or in God’s plan. For example, the alleged “war on Christmas” which gets Christians so upset every year is really nothing more than Christians trying to impose their own religious sensibilities and preferences on the rest of society. Simply replacing the word “Christmas” with “Holidays” or “Xmas” will not destroy the world, and simply forcing people to retain the word “Christmas” is not going to make the world a more peaceful, just and sustainable place. Christian entitlement does nothing to heal the world.
But, John’s message offers something that just might help to heal the world. He calls his listeners to lives of simple, practical justice. Those with excess should share. Those who have a responsibility to society should serve without corruption or exploitation. Those who are responsible to protect and exercise authority over others should not use their power to abuse or harm. It’s a simple message of humility, compassion, grace, service and the contentment that comes from simplicity. There is no entitlement here. It is all about making the world a better place for others, because when we do this, it becomes a better place for us. And, it is this simple justice that prepares our hearts and our world for the Reign of God which comes in Christ.
My prayer this Advent is that we will take this message of simple, practical justice seriously. Instead of constantly seeking ways to stand out from the crowd, to be special and to justify our sense of entitlement, we can find life, joy and peace by standing with one another, treating one another as we want to be treated, and sharing the grace and love of Christ with everyone around us. It’s not dramatic. It doesn’t make us special. Perhaps that’s why we find it so hard. But, if it’s a healed world we seek, it’s the easiest and most accessible way to contribute to bringing that healing into being.