Severity and Kindness

The Bible readings for today are Isaiah 11.1–10; Psalm 72.1-7, 18-19; Romans 15.4-13; Matthew 3.1-12.

What great readings! Still, I can’t avoid their dark side. Did you notice it? ‘With the breath of his mouth he will kill the wicked’ and ‘every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire’. Too much killing, fire and brimstone for me to be entirely comfortable with these texts. But they are not written to make me comfortable; quite the reverse. Sure, they are about peace and harmony but the peace they envisage is built on truth and justice. A judgement in favour of the poor and the meek has implications for their oppressors. The severity of the warnings points up the absolute horror of human ruthlessness and the seriousness with which God responds to it. What is more, the passages are after something and it is not so much punishment as sincere repentance; pretended repentance will not do.

The problem with all this, however, is that warnings and threats of punishment do not seem to bring about repentance in the hard-hearted. Perhaps that is why, instead of killing, the tender shoot of the stump of Jesse would offer his own life to woo humanity to return to its maker. ‘Let all the peoples praise him’!

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