By Frank Lesko, Coordinator of Justice and Peace
For the 4th Sunday of Advent
1 + 1 ≠ 0
Mary is first among saints and the model for all Christians because she said “yes” to God. Yet how many of us fear what we would have to give up if we said “yes” to God?
I have been very moved by Kathleen Owen, our parish Coordinator of Care and Wellness, who talks about people seeing choices in zero sum terms: In order for one person to win, they think someone else must lose. In order for me to be $10 richer, they reason that someone else needs to be $10 poorer. To follow God, it seems like I would have to give up the things that I want. I wonder what Mary was afraid of losing when God approached her.
By following God, we may die to ourselves. However, just like the paschal sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, this dying actually leads to new life—we are more ourselves than we ever were before. If there is anything we have learned from the Resurrection, it is that Death ≠ Death, when transformed by Christ.
Our society pits one side against the other, and people are presented with false choices: To the pregnant single mom, either the child wins or she wins, and the choice is perceived as one life against another. The incarcerated murderer who receives mercy in prison is seen as winning when society rather wants revenge through the death penalty. If the immigrant workers win rights, then that must mean that natural born citizens lose. To “protect our national interests,” we use our military and economic might to oppress other nations—we keep them down before they keep us down. Life is a constant battle of king of the hill, and people think that the best you can hope for is to be on top for a while.
The Gospels continually challenge this dog-eat-dog logic and urge us to try something different. History has shown that win-win scenarios are possible, when tried. Many were convinced that advances in human rights would ruin the prosperity of the business community: Child labor laws, the 40-hour work week, safety standards, the right to unionize, the list goes on and on. Yet with each advance in the rights of workers, business not only survived, but prospered. It was a false assumption to believe that the success for one would equal a loss for the other.
I keep this in mind whenever someone says that the economy could never function based solely on fair trade principles. Those are probably the same sort of people who said that the whole economy would fail if we abolished slavery, and look how that turned out.
Our tradition calls us to a deeper realization of the relationships we have with one another. By saying “yes” to God and to the needs of our fellow humans when they cry for help, we are actually saying “yes” to the deepest part of ourselves. Fear of what may happen clouds our ability to see this, which is why we need role models like Mary.
By saying “yes” to God as Mary did, we may indeed face some death. Our lifestyle may change and we may have new struggles. But if we approach that with the gifts of faith and hope that we nurture this Advent season, we too can be like Mary whose “yes” to the Lord helped bring new life into this world. By giving all to God, she realized her best self.
Looking at the math, Life minus life = nothing. Zero sum leads us, by definition, nowhere. Let us stay positive on all sides of the equation this Advent season and beyond: Your gain = My gain = God’s gain.