I am reading through Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word, Vol. I, Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis’ commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. You can see all of my posts on this subject here.
For Matthew 1:21, Erasmo looks at Christ’s mission: he will save us from our sins. He didn’t come to throw out the Romans or make Israel politically powerful; he came to make us holy, to claim us, us as individuals, for himself.
Idolatry is always strong in human society; and in our society the two dominant forms it takes are individualism and collectivism. As individuals, we worship ourselves: we exercise, we eat right, or we feel guilty because we don’t do these things as the culture says we should. And, of course, the cult of the almighty orgasm is, in the end, simply the cult of our own pleasure. We Have To Have Our Own Way.
Jesus says no; we must love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. That’s the first great commandment; and it’s all about sanctification, being holy. Erasmo says,
Until our lives are reoriented toward God and doing what is good, our endeavors in any field of human activity can only be a function of our sinfulness and egotism.
The second idol is collectivism: the notion that all social problems—poverty, addiction, violence, racism, what have you—are systemic, and the key to fixing them is to fix society. The Good of All thus becomes the thing to worship; but “All” is an abstraction. There is no “All”, concretely speaking, but only all of us individuals, and worship of the “All” leads in turn to worship of the State, which is the only entity big enough to conceivably “fix” society as a whole.
Jesus says no; the problem isn’t Society, but rather Our Sins; that’s the systemic problem. He came to fix it at the root, by his death and resurrection. Now it has to play out in our lives as individuals. And this leads to the second great commandment, that we must love our neighbors—our real neighbors, those people we see every day—as ourselves. I wish to be well-fed, clothed, and housed; I wish to have a fulfilling, interesting life; I wish to become holy, to love God as He deserves, that I might spend eternity with Him. I work to achieve things things; and so I must work to achieve for my neighbors. It is my individual responsibility, and it relates not to some vaguely defined collective but to individuals: not to society, but to people. These people may live thousands of miles away from me, or they may live in my house, but they are individuals, created by God in His image.