God certainly seems to throw a few good punches at us men and women from time to time. In today’s first reading we are told that He “degraded” the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali. Actually Zebulun and Naphtali did a good job of degrading themselves. God, because He respects our freedom, allows us to make such tragic choices for degradation. The consequences that ensue are not a punishment but a chastisement that help us to see the error of our ways. There is an old expression that has great validity: “God always forgives, people sometimes forgive, nature never forgives.” The theological axiom in moral theology says as much, “Sin is its own punishment.”
Nations have experienced this throughout history, as have countless individuals. Zebulun and Naphtali had the law of God written in their hearts as we do. We have it even better actually. We have our Lord Jesus Christ, the Scriptures, and the Church’s teachings to remind us and enflesh the Truth that makes us free. We don’t need to bang our heads or stretch our imaginations in order to know what is right and wrong, true or false about life, love, justice, charity, marriage, sex. We know it. We are given the Sacraments, taught how to pray, heard the Commandments and the Beatitudes, the law of love itself. Yet like last week’s readings, we see ongoing rebellion, this time with Zebulun and Naphtali, and as always, with ourselves. Also like last weekends’ Scriptures, we see that God will have no part in our long term spiritual and moral demise, the loss of salvation. He will give us our freedom, allow the natural chastisements to run their course, but He will not see us lost. If we want to be saved He is there to rebuild what we have ruined. We see how the Lord, despite all of the rebellion He is faced with, “glorifies”; how a “light has shown”; and how the people experience “abundant joy” and “make merry.”
Our lives are so oftentimes like this. We bounce back and forth from fidelity to infidelity, from zeal to mediocrity. There are of course many reasons for this, sin and its underlying causes most obviously. There are other issues too, our personality traits, our natural flaws, the circumstances we find our lives in. None of this is to excuse our infidelity or mediocrity but it does help us explain why God can be so merciful. He knows better than we do the brokenness of humanity. Can it be overcome?
Here we turn to the Gospel. “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand” is the pathway to making all things right. All we need to do is repent and God will do therest. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Yet that is not always true. Some sins, flaws, etc. that we need to overcome we just enjoy too much so we excuse them or accidentally on purpose put ourselves in situations of moral, and thereby, spiritual corruption. Other times we do not see clearly without the help of other people, and pride keeps us from heeding God’s voice through those sacred others that He places in our path. Perhaps we doubt the mercy of God or see no way out, or our contrition and amendment of life and behavior, is half hearted and insincere. “Repent” just to repent for itself offers no incentive, no real reason to do so. It points to something greater, “The Kingdom is at hand; eternal life is at hand; life giving truth is at hand, love is at hand; God is at hand. For those who seek the Kingdom, who desire eternal life, who want to live in the freedom of the children of God, repentance is not a burden nor is it accepted half heartedly. Every sin committed is not a moment of despair but a time of sorrow. We have wounded ourselves as we, not God, close off the good things that are at hand. Every unrepentant sin should be a cause for even greater sorrow because the good things at hand can be lost eternally. St. Paul tells us that “eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor have our minds conceived what wonderful things God has prepared for those who love Him.” If we had the faith the size of a mustard seed every sin would be avoided. If only!
What is the goal of all of this. The second reading from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians says it well, that “you be united”. Our final destiny and dignity is union with God. We begin that journey of unity with God by our unity with one another in the community and household of faith. If we can turn our faces and hearts to the others whom we have offended, family members, friends, coworkers, neighbors, we already begin to live a life of beatitude. We already begin to reign with Him Who desires us “not to die in our sins but to turn back to Him and live.” Fr. John Maduri