Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15
Ps 103: 1-4, 6-8, 11
1 Cor 10:1-6, 10-12
How do you feel when someone who's been hurtful, cruel, or morally corrupt gets hit with a hardship that makes them suffer? Our natural tendency is to rejoice because justice has finally been meted out.
Jesus addresses this in next Sunday's gospel passage. He wants us to understand that we cannot truthfully say that someone is a "greater sinner" than we are, even if that person is doing more damage than we are, is more unChristian than we are, or is blatantly an evil-doer.
Every person has been created in the image of God, even the worst ones. Those who display an opposite image are nonetheless loved by Jesus Christ, who died for them. Itís a tragedy that they do not live as the person God created them to be, because this harms others. But it will be an even worse tragedy if no one invites them to turn their lives over to Christ by loving them as he loves them.
No person is an evil person. Evil-doers are children of God living in ignorance of their true identity. They are victims of evil and were seduced by it into believing that itís the best way to live. They don't understand that they can be healed by the Sinless One who conquered evil for their redemption. We should feel sorry for them. We should mourn with Jesus for the tragedy that continues within their souls.
When we don't care enough to grieve over a person's inner destruction, we are sinning. We are disregarding what Jesus did for them on the cross. We are damaging our own souls.
All those who have sinned against you are like the fig tree in Jesus' parable. If you have access to them, he wants you to till their soil. He wants you to fertilize their souls with love and with the truth of the Gospel as taught by your actions and, when theyíre ready, by your words. He wants you to give them a gentle but obvious invitation to grow in the right direction.
Notice that Jesus doesn't want us to keep a diseased, disintegrating tree in the garden forever. After (and only after) we have done everything possible, if the evil-doer does not want to change, the best care we can give to the garden is to cut down the tree. This means walking away or calling in the authorities for intervention and letting the sinner reap what he sows. This, too, is very loving. When fertilizer won't produce good fruits, a fallen tree becomes mulch and enriches the ground for a new beginning.
Questions for Personal Reflection:
Who has been so hurtful to you that you wish God would punish them? Can you feel sorry for them? Can you pray for God to do good for them? If not, take this to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and ask for God's help in feeling more concerned about them. In this, you'll find freedom from the anger and pain that has been holding you captive.
Questions for Group Faith Sharing:
What steps can be taken to fertilize the lives of the problematic people of your parish or family or workplace? How do you know when it's time to continue trying and when it's time to quit and chop a tree down?
Hope is the theme of the First Sunday of Advent. In the readings for Mass, Isaiah describes a future in which all is well because (1) God is recognized as the highest authority and (2) obeying him is the people's highest priority. This vision gave great hope to the oppressed Israelites. Today if we look at this as a description of heaven, it gives great hope to us, too. When we die, "terms" will be "imposed" upon us because we did not stay entirely on the paths of God (a good reason for purgatory), but we will be living in the light of the Lord after death and there will be no more wars to battle.