Second Sunday of Advent Reflection
Repentance and Just Judgment
December 6, 2010
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
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