Jeremiah 38:4-6.8-10; Hebrews 12:1-4; Luke 12:49-53
There is little a criminal on death row can do the night before his execution. He might read a book, watch TV, make a last call to his family, or enjoy a final meal. The fact is, of course, he has run out of options. In a few hours he will be led by the guards to that place where he will be hanged, or shot, or injected with a lethal chemical. Justice will be done and he will find himself standing before his Maker.
The people of Judah, in today’s first reading found themselves in much the same circumstances as the condemned criminal. Countless times they had betrayed their God – the God who had warned them over and over again, sending judges and prophets to them. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you... (Joshua 24:20). Now the Chosen People find themselves on death row. The chickens of all their bad choices have come home to roost and soon they will be destroyed by the savage Chaldeans massing at their borders.
If we are to believe the prophetic voices of our times, contemporary godless, immoral, murderous Western civilisation is, if not on death row then certainly, at least, in prison. Our many crimes against God, born from our intellectual and spiritual pride, have unleashed forces which we cannot now control and which threaten to overturn our arrogant superiority. Our choices are growing fewer and fewer; we, too, are running out of options. Many times have we been warned from heaven that a chastisement is coming for the world. (But who in their right mind cannot tell by simple observation the direction in which things are going for the world, and particularly for Christians?)
Perhaps Fr Dwight Longenecker sums it up well: When we look at the state of the world today – the pace of moral decay, the threat of war and terrorism, the rapid disintegration and persecution of the church we seem helpless to turn back the tide. It is as if we are facing the sea and watching the surging wave of a tsunami rolling in.
But let’s check back with our man on death row. He is awake and being prepared for his final walk. Unexpectedly a priest enters the room – the never-sleeping mercy of God – in the form of an elderly, kind chaplain. He offers the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the promise of life in the face of death. But he is rebuffed. Moments later the unfortunate prisoner goes out to undergo the justice of man, and then, having rejected mercy, to face the justice of God.
King Hezekiah stands on the wall of Jerusalem gazing northwards. He can almost see the Chaldean hordes. There is no help at hand. Suddenly a man stands before him, the prophet Jeremiah. He brings a word from God – an unexpected, merciful word.
If you surrender, you and the people, your lives and this city will be spared. You will be taken to a foreign land but you will live and prosper there. If you resist, you will be destroyed.
Poor King Hezekiah cannot bring himself to obey the word of God; it's such a risk! Having rejected mercy he must now experience justice. The city is destroyed, the people are slain and the survivors go into the cruellest slavery.
And finally, we get back to our own day as we approach the tipping point of our sins; the point of no return. Many times have we been warned and yet we seem to be blind and deaf. There can be no doubt that God will intervene. Listen to this warning from Sr Agnes Sasagawa (1973) from Akita in Japan, a stigmatic, whose messages from our Lady have been approved by the Church: As I told you, if men do not repent and better themselves, the Father will inflict a terrible punishment on all humanity. It will be a punishment greater than the deluge, such as one will have never been seen before. Fire will fall from the sky and will wipe out a great part of humanity, the good as well as the bad, sparing neither priests nor faithful. The survivors will find themselves so desolate that they will envy the dead...Each day recite the prayers of the Rosary. With the Rosary, pray for the Pope, the bishops and priests.
The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church, in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against bishops. The priests who venerate Me will be scorned and opposed by their confreres – churches and altars sacked; the Church will be full of those who accept compromises and the demon will press many priests and consecrated souls to leave the service of the Lord. The demon will be especially implacable against souls consecrated to God.
To a humanity standing on the brink of chastisement the Father sends his mercy - his only Son. He spoke to St Faustina in the 1940's: While there is still time, let them have recourse to the fount of My Mercy; let them profit from the Blood and water which gushed forth for them…….. before I come as the just one, I first open wide the gates of My Mercy. He who does not pass through the gates of My Mercy must pass through the gates of justice. He is speaking, of course, of the Sacrament of Confession as well as of the Chaplet of Mercy and the 3 pm Prayer.
So, I guess, it's rather easy to grasp. The man on death row and king Hezekiah made their choice - it was the wrong one. Now it's our turn. What is our choice to be? Justice? Or mercy?