Tuesday 6th December 2022. Read Isaiah 40:1-11, Ps. 96:1-3,10-13, Matthew 18:12-14 “And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So, it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.” (Matthew 18:13-14)

Today’s first reading is a Christmas message of glad tidings: “Comfort my people.” Isaiah was writing at a time when the nation of Israel was facing serious political and civil unrest. Much of Isaiah’s prophecies centered on the need to repent to avert incoming doom but then in the midst of his doomsday prophecies, Isaiah speaks of comfort. He speaks of a time that God will come with might, to gather the lambs in his arms and gently lead them to green pasture.

The image Isaiah paints here was the inspiration behind the logo of the Year of Mercy. Jesus is depicted as carrying a wounded sinner on his shoulders In today’s Gospel passage, we hear Jesus saying that God is like that shepherd who abandons the ninety-nine in search of the lost sheep. The attitude of God towards those who go astray depicts pity, care, and concern rather than punishment.

For us humans, we consider it wise to protect the ninety-nine rather than risk losing the entire sheepfold just because of one. Furthermore, we like to publicly punish the one who goes astray to serve as a deterrent for others. The truth is that the wisdom of God is far superior to ours. As we read in Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

The question is, if our criminal justice system were to mimic this type of wisdom, if those who commit crimes are treated with so much care and huge resources are devoted towards their rehabilitation and recovery, what would become of our human society? I once read an article about a country where their Prisons are like 5-Star Hotels, and prisoners receive very humane treatment, yet the crime rate is surprisingly low compared with other places where prisoners are treated like second-class animals.

One would assume that in a country like ours where prisons are jampacked (with many dying of suffocation due to lack of breathing space), prisoners are so poorly fed and dehumanized, people would be scared of committing crimes. In fact, research shows that a sizeable proportion of prisoners are there for the second or third time. Recently there was a move to replace the term “prisons” with “correctional centers”. However, the starling evidence before us reveals that this is more of a name change than an actual attitude change.

Nevertheless, the very fact that the nomenclature was changed reveals an underlying fact; as a nation, we are aware that humans tend to behave better when treated with love and concern than when treated as “good-for-nothings”. The problem often is where and how to draw the line between loving the offender and condoning the crime. This again is one way that God’s wisdom far supersedes our human reasoning.

As much as God told us in Ezekiel 18 that He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Verse 23&32), He also mentions in that same Ezekiel 18 that if a man does abominable things, “he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon himself.” (Ezek. 18:2-13). Jesus speaks of a shepherd rejoicing at the return of lost sheep but he doesn’t fail to warn us that “the Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:41-42)

Surely, there are consequences for our sinful choices but God does not hate us because of our sins. He continues to love us, providing several opportunities for us to repent. We can learn to be more sympathetic towards sinners (those who hurt us) treating them as sick patients in need of recovery than as less-than-human creatures deserving only of our hatred. In this way, we can save some and bring them back to the light but no doubt, there are many who would prefer to remain in darkness despite the love we show to them. 

Let us pray: Heavenly Father, as I celebrate once again the birthday of Christ, may I become born again in the Spirit. Through Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you. (Tuesday of the 2nd week of Advent. Bible Study: Isaiah 40:1-11, Ps. 96:1-3,10-13, Matthew 18:12-14)

© Rev. Fr. Evaristus Abu