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Second Sunday of Advent Reflection

Repentance and Just Judgment

December 6,  2010

JudgmentToday’s liturgy speaks to us of judgment.  In both readings from Isaiah  11:1-10 and Matthew 3:1-12 we hear of One who is coming who will judge in the Spirit of the Lord.  This judgment will be very different from our usual ways of judging.  As Isaiah tells us:

Not by appearance shall he judge,

nor by hearsay shall he decide,

but he shall judge the poor with justice,

and decide aright for the land’s afflicted.

Both in Isaiah’s time and in our own, judgment is made in service to the established “social order,” that is, in Isaiah’s terms, by “appearance” and “hearsay.”  In this type of judgment, the powerful and the powerless are judged by very different standards.  In the present day United States, for example, support for the unemployed is seen by many as a drain on common resources, while the most wealthy are considered, by many, entitled to reduced taxation; the perennial underclass constitutes a disproportionate percentage of the prison population; healthcare and minimal security in old age are considered entitlements while tax incentives for corporations and unbridled defense spending are considered necessities.

     According to the vision of Isaiah, the One who judges in the Spirit of the Lord has a very different perspective.  In this judgment of the Spirit the poor and the afflicted will be judged with justice and the ruthless and the wicked will be struck down.  We learn in the beautiful harmonic vision of Isaiah which follows that the result of the advent on the earth of such justice and faithfulness will be the reconciliation of those who have always been adversaries, the harmonization of the dissonant.

     In Romans 15 St. Paul exhorts his hearers:

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The prerequisite to thinking and living in harmony is justice and judgment.  It is the “common wisdom” of judgment by appearance and having (sometimes developed over centuries) that breeds dissension, disharmony, and even violence.  St. Paul’s injunction to “welcome one another as Christ welcomed you” is a call to repent of the judgments of the other that so often determine our relationships (or lack of relationships) and to discover in the humble space this repentance creates in our hearts the room for the unfamiliar and even frightening other.

     In the Gospel reading from Matthew 3, John the Baptist passes judgment on the Pharisees and Sadducees who come to be baptized.  In his stern rebuke to them, John teaches us what lies at the core of true repentance and the justice and harmony that follow in its wake.  “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’  For I tell you, God can raise up children of Abraham from these stones.”  The Pharisees and Sadducees came to John to be baptized, perhaps sincerely desiring to flee the judgment to come.  But they remain blind and unrepentant of that which is the greatest obstacle to receiving the Lord with joy:  their sense of entitlement and superiority.  In the Alternative Prayer of today’s liturgy we petition:  “May the lure of greed not impede us from the joy which moves the hearts of those who seek him.”  John the Baptist recognizes the impossibility of true repentance as long as there remains in us any trace of demand to be special, or privileged, or entitled.  At so many levels of our conscious and unconscious awareness we cling to whatever small thread distinguishes or separates us from the common life of all humanity.   It is the greediness of this grasping that impedes us from the joy “which moves the hearts of those who seek him.”  It is impossible to judge with justice and aright from the illusory place of power, entitlement, or superiority over others.  The One who is always coming to us in love and judgment judges aright because He judges out of the common humanity He shares with us all.

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