Summary: The secret to getting along is living as Jesus did, in a family.
“Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?”
The question I’d like to ask today, this Christmas about two thousand twenty years after the first one, comes from an unlikely guy, Rodney King. You may not remember him, but a couple of decades ago he was the victim of a police beating out in California, which was caught on tape and gave him more than his fifteen minutes of fame. He has since died–not of his injuries–but in the wake of that beating he asked an important and enduring question, “why can’t we all just get along?” In the warm light of the Christmas star, I’d like to give a start to answering that very important question.
Today we celebrate the foundation of the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph. It was founded in squalor–a feed box is a poor excuse for an infant crib. There was no reason for optimism at that moment. After all, Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem because a cruel tyrant of a regional despot wanted to wring more tax money out of their country. The Romans had everybody under their boots. The era was the reign of Caesar Augustus, a particularly corrupt ruler who held sway over the entire Mediterranean. Sadducees and Pharisees and Zealots were vying for power in the land of Jesus’s birth. Revolts broke out from time to time, and were viciously put down. There was no reason for optimism.
Pope Francis refuses to be called an optimist, as well. What he offers in place of a kind of naive optimism is a theological virtue–a gift of God. That is hope. Hope is founded on memory. In the stable of Bethlehem, that memory was a prophetic one that looked to a future of triumph over evil and of unimaginable joy. “I will put enmity between the serpent and the Woman, between it’s seed and her seed. He shall crush the serpent’s head, and the serpent shall wound His heel.” Later, “The virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call Him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” And, “they shall look upon Him whom they have pierced.”
Why can’t we all just get along? It’s because every human being comes with a set of expectations and desires, a different mind set that comes from differing environment, DNA and sheer will. Those expectations and desires come into conflict with those other human beings have, and it sets up conflict. One of my friends said it well the other day, “it seems like every Christmas my little brother got more and better gifts than the rest of us kids.”
That comment, I believe, gives us a path to a solution. There was envy sparked at Christmas, for whatever reason, but the brothers and sister still got along among themselves. They got along because the recognized each other as having the same father and mother, and of sharing a common interest in the family’s welfare. And, whatever conflicts may have occurred, my friend shed many tears when her brothers died. Conflict paled in the light of what we used to call “brotherly love.”
Jesus and I share something in common. We were the firstborn sons in our families, and the only child of our mothers. My mom couldn’t have children, so she and dad adopted me when I was just a few days old. They intended to have more, but I guess I was a handful, so I was it. Jesus was the only child of the only Virgin to ever give birth. She was really the spouse of the Holy Spirit, so it was fitting that Jesus be her only natural child. That meant that she could then become the mother of a multitude. We call that multitude the Church.
But Jesus had a large family. In those days there wasn’t a rush to the suburbs to buy single-family houses. Extended families lived close to each other, sometimes even under the same roof. So Jesus had aunts and uncles and cousins and nieces and nephews–adelphos, the Bible calls them–relatives. He had a family, so he could talk about the Church as a family. He taught us how to correct each other, how to support each other. When he gathered his first disciples, they lived together as a family, even sharing a common purse. And the keeper of that purse was named Judas Iscariot.
Judas, like all of us, was a weak and sinful human being. In fact, in that community there was only one who was not weak and sinful–Jesus Himself. Peter was impetuous–“Lord, I will surely die for you,” followed a half-hour later by cringing before a servant girl and cursing His Lord. James and John were hotheads with huge egos. They wanted to be the right and left hand men of Jesus.