Growing up on our family dairy farm, I struggled with my dad’s leniency toward those who fell short of his high standards. Whether they were an incompetent hired hand or someone who had wronged my dad or a neighbor, he would treat them the same as those who were well respected in our small farming community.
Looking back, I realize why my dad did so. Life in our community was unpredictable. Folks were often one accident, one poor season of weather or one bad market from hardship or even loss of their farm. When equipment and buildings burned to the ground, cattle died from disease or crops were lost to drought, you came to the aid of those in need and trusted they would do the same for you. How you treated people mattered.
In the military’s special operations forces, members live by five truths. The first: “People are more important than things.” This truth recognizes that life in special operations often places individuals in adverse conditions where not even the best technology or equipment will enable them to succeed. It acknowledges that the people on a small team are their own greatest advantage. This community places a high premium on valuing and investing in people over any one thing.
When equipment and buildings burned to the ground, cattle died from disease or crops were lost to drought, you came to the aid of those in need and trusted they would do the same for you.
The Gospel texts for November reflect this penchant for people over things. Whether calling the marginalized blessed or talking about endurance amid chaotic events and keeping ready, the texts call us to draw near to each other just as Jesus draws near to all humanity through his death (Luke 20:38). In his preaching, he dismisses physical structures (Luke 21:5-6) and disastrous events (Luke 21:10-11), calling our attention to other things.
But there’s a wrinkle. Not only are we called to value people over things, but we’re also told to expand our preference for people to include our enemies (Luke 6:27-29), just as Jesus expanded his to the criminals he was crucified alongside and the crowd that called for his death.
In our collective witness to the world to pursue justice, mercy and love, we often value things over people. We prefer institutions, social statements and commentaries that validate our perceptions and affirm our biases. In my experience this alienates those with opposing views whom we hope to reach with our testimony and marginalizes those for whom we hope to advocate. When we lose sight of our values, we can have a hard time seeing Jesus.
We can only see Jesus if we value even the seemingly worst of people over things. That sentiment is worthy of our reflection as we end this liturgical year and enter the season of Advent.