During the 12th Week of Ordinary Time, we will continue to read from the History Books of the Hebrew Scriptures as well as from the Gospel of St. Matthew.
There is a strong theme that runs through all of the History Books; namely, the theme of reciprocity. Simply stated, it says that if you do good things, God will reward you with good things. If you do evil things, God will punish you. It is this kind of thinking that led the Israelites to believe that leprosy, death of a loved one, any chronic illness, the loss of one's fortune, etc., were God's punishment visited upon a sinful person. Conversely, if one was rich and healthy, that person's blessings were a sign of that person's goodness in the eyes of God. With this type of attitude, one can understand how one might become a bit judgmental when it comes to poor or seriously ill people. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus counters that understanding as he, the just one, suffers the most humiliating kind of death known in his time.
While we may no longer hold that there is a link between sin and illness, we can still be a very judgmental people. Recently, while I was visiting a local branch of the chain of gyms known as “Planet Fitness,” I notice that their slogan was painted in big letters on the back wall: “Judgement Free Zone.” I told the clerk that I understood that their slogan was to make us feel comfortable as the really fit persons exercised alongside those who were less than fit, but I added, “You realize that you spelled “judgment” incorrectly! He said, “Yes, we did it on purpose to make our point!” Hello! What part of “Judgement Free” didn’t I understand?
The readings from the Hebrew Scriptures this week will make the point that the exile that was imposed upon the Israelites by the Assyrians was the direct result of the lack of obedience to the Law on the part of the children of Israel – the theology of reciprocity at work. However, the Gospel asks us to open our eyes to the reality that such a judgmental attitude is not God’s way of acting. God’s pattern of judgment is mercy and forgiveness.
Given the natural disasters that have been plaguing our country of late – fires, floods, storms – one could think that the people who have lost their lives and their homes were the greatest of sinners. Last week in Orlando, three separate incidents were blazoned across our headlines. A young singer was murdered, a gay night club became the scene of a massacre, and a little boy was attacked and killed by an alligator. While there were many who used the massacre in the night club as a way to denigrate gay people, God is not a capricious God. Rather God loves all people regardless of their sins. We are called to do the same. Indeed, the Church should be the “Judgment Free Zone” par excellence.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator