Today’s Advent Reading:
USCCB — December 15th

It’s not clear what the world wants from us. When we look to the world for guidance, we receive all kinds of different messages. The world tells us to be ourselves but also to fit in. Work hard but don’t be someone who works too hard. Follow your dreams but do something practical. Buy these products but also consume less. Every day, we are bombarded with instructions in advertisements, from our friends on social media, and from the culture all around us about how to live. And together, all these instructions make no sense.

When you add up all the trite aphorisms that are behind so much of our thinking and so many of our decisions, you get absolute rubbish. There is simply no way to live up to all the standards the world calls us to. The world has put a heavy burden on each of us, a burden that is impossible to lift, and yet the world is shocked that we cannot lift it; the world is shocked that we cannot have a great career and be perfectly fit and be dedicated to our families and not be worried about things and be open to anything and have an excellent five-year plan and save the environment and be a great musician and so on and so on and so on all at the same time.

In today’s passage from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus complains about the unfair and contradictory standards applied to Him and John the Baptist. Jesus compares the people around him to fickle, little children asking for something impossible. They criticized John the Baptist for his asceticism only to then criticize Jesus for his lack of asceticism. The world could not be satisfied by either of them, because the world has contradictory standards. The judgments of the world are not based on a consistent truth, but on various people’s opinions.

It is no coincidence that the other passages from today’s readings from Psalms and Isaiah discuss the goodness of God’s judgment and God’s rules. So long as we try to live up to the standards of the world around us, we will fail. Every time we satisfy one person or follow one rule, we will upset another person and break some other rule. But if we seek to please God and not the world, if we follow His standard and not the world’s, we will flourish.

As today’s Psalm says of the person who follows God’s commandments:

“He is like a tree

planted near running water,

That yields its fruit in due season,

and whose leaves never fade.

Whatever he does, prospers.” (Psalms 1:3)

The selection from Matthew in today’s reading is immediately followed in the Gospel by two reflections on following God’s standards rather than those of the world. First, Jesus laments the lack of repentance in certain cities; their failure to turn and follow God rather than the world would lead to their destruction. Second, Jesus calls us to leave behind the world and follow him instead. If we are burdened by the world and its standards, we should turn to God instead. Jesus says:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Greg Scalise ’18 is a Philosophy and Classics joint concentrator in Pforzheimer House.

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