During this season of Advent, we hear Bible stories about a theme – the Kingdom of God vs. the empires of humanity. It comes out in the stories of John the Baptist. It comes through Isaiah. It comes through the Psalms. It comes through the Epistle readings. It’s the constant contrast between the Ideal Kingdom of God and the stark reality of the empires that seek to control and oppress people.
And, at it’s core it centers around one main idea – how we treat our neighbor. The Kingdom of God is based on two commandments – Love the Lord you God with all your heart, mind, strength, and might, and to love your neighbor as yourself. As we read in Luke 10, Jesus is approached by a teacher of the law and asks about these laws and then takes it a step further – he asks the critical question – Who is my neighbor? As we are told in the Scripture, he does this to justify himself.
Jesus goes on to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan. The teacher doesn’t really like this parable. We can tell this at the very end when Jesus asks him the question about who was the neighbor to the man. The answer was “the one who showed him mercy.” Technically a correct answer, but also a dehumanized answer. The right answer, the one the teacher couldn’t bear to say was, the Samaritan. If he had answered that way, it would have meant that the Samaritan was humanized and had value. And he would have to love this type of person.
The Kingdom of God tells us to love our neighbor, regardless of who they are. It’s not a matter of seeing the differences in another and determining how to keep those differences separate from us. It’s about seeing the image of God in the other person. Too often, those who are looking for differences are really looking to see what kind of threat someone is. And at an even deeper level, focusing on the differences through the lens of fear is really about being exposed to something that rocks many people – that we are not the full expression of creation or godliness. If we truly embrace the Imago Dei, then we should be looking at the differences in others from ourselves through a different lens – a lens that is capable of seeing God more fully unveiled in our midst. We aren’t the full expressions of God or God’s creativity. We are only a small variation.
It is in loving our neighbor that we fulfill the command to love God, the creator of our neighbor and all of creation. Our neighbor carries the image of God. So when we love our neighbor, we are loving God. How we treat our neighbor is essentially how we are treating God.
Do we push our neighbor away, build walls of separation, call our neighbors names, accuse our neighbor of bad things, etc.? Then we are doing the same thing to God.
The empires of humanity tell us to hate and fear our neighbor. They tell us that they are not our neighbor at all – how could they be when they look, talk, speak, and worship differently. The empires of humanity only want neighbors who are like us – part of our tribe. Those who aren’t part of our tribe are not to be trusted at best, and at worst, are dehumanized.
At the core of the empires of humanity is this belief – you are to love yourself above all else. Empires see loving oneself as the top priority because empires are narcissistic at their core. And the good news is this – all empires fall. They fall under their own weight. They fall because narcissism is not sustainable. They fall because they aren’t built on solid foundations. They fall, because throughout the course of human history, they are always the bearers of a false gospel. And they are out of alignment with God’s Kingdom.