Jul 29, 2019
(Ex.33:7-11,34:5-9,28; Ps.103:6-13; Mt.13:36-43)
“The angels will hurl them into the fiery furnace
where they will wail and grind their teeth.”
It is the justice of God which is our theme today. And though it is absolutely certain that the mercy of God far surpasses our merit and He does not “requite us according to our crimes,” yet it is equally so – and Jesus could not make it more explicit than He does in His explanation in our gospel today – that God’s will is not for “declaring the guilty guiltless,” and that “the followers of the evil one” shall be punished. It is this invariable necessity of God’s justice I highlight today because of its general ignorance in this age.
“Merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in kindness,” David declares in our psalm. “The Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.” Yes, “surpassing is His kindness toward those who fear Him.” But what if we should not fear Him? What if we should not give Him the love and honor and respect which is rightfully His? It cannot but be that we pervert His kindness and compassion and, by our own will, turn it into the flaming punishment it thus becomes. This is the justice of God: it reaches down “for a thousand generations”; it covers the earth with its forgiveness. But turning from it we inevitably cast ourselves into hell, for there is no place to hide our hardened hearts from His merciful love. Thus our refusal to accept His surpassing kindness is that which provides the kindling for the everlasting flames. And if we deny the existence of hell, we deny the presence of God’s love, and our own free will in choosing it or not.
In our first reading there is quite a jump, better than a chapter, in the scene. In the first half Moses is in the tent of meeting where he would serve as judge for the people; in the second half he is on Mount Sinai, where God has led him to receive the Ten Commandments (a second time). The Lord has also promised to reveal His back to Moses – no one can see His face and live – and it is this scene that is spoken of in our gospel. Moses speaks the Lord’s silent NAME, “YHWH”, and God comes in power, crying to him of His infinite mercy and absolute justice. As the Lord passes by in this way, Moses is overwhelmed and begs God to remain with him and the people, recognizing that they will not be able to take a step without Him. And in His great kindness, but not without appropriate punishment, the Lord will remain with Moses and the Israelites through their desert journey.
“The saints will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom.” The angels shall gather the good seed unto their just reward. And there shall be great rejoicing as the mercy of God thus comes to fulfillment. But none of this can be until “all who draw others to apostasy and all evildoers” are cast out from His presence. Just as the faithless were not permitted to enter the Promised Land but died in the desert, so only those whose hearts burn with the love of God will shine in His kingdom. For the rest only the fires of torment await.
O LORD, the weeds must be burned
that those whom your Son has redeemed
might shine brightly before you.
YHWH, to Moses you spoke face to face, proclaiming your NAME to him, and he bowed down in your wondrous presence as your power passed before him. Your merciful ways you made known to him, your mercy and your justice, for you put away the sins of those who fear you, but the wicked shall know punishment.
We are indeed stiff-necked, O LORD, and deserving of your fiery wrath. But help us now to turn to you that we might be preserved from destruction at the end of the age. Your good seed let us be, sown by Jesus and His love. By His sacrifice He prepares the ground for a bountiful harvest.
O LORD, let us shine like the sun in your kingdom on the Day of your Son’s return. And so, now let our ears be open to hear of your mercy; upon our hearts inscribe your NAME that we might remember your love.