The WORD in other words by Fr. Randy Flores, SVD — Sacred Heart Parish Shrine, Kamuning, Quezon City
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time / C
Today is Prison Awareness Sunday. Sacred Heart Parish-Shrine has a long history of pastoral involvement with the Quezon City Jail. We call it the Restorative Justice Ministry (RJM), and we regard the “offenders” there not as “bilanggo” (prisoners) but as Persons Deprived of Liberty” (PDL).
The Book of Wisdom (First Reading) incidentally has something to say about “offenders.” God rebukes them but “little by little.” Permit me then to comment on the First Reading instead of the Gospel.
The First Reading belongs to the section on what is known as the Digression on Mercy. The author, let us call him the Sage, digresses from what he is discussing to ruminate on the mercy of God.
Because of the crimes that the Caananites committed against Israel, God should have right away punished (death penalty) these criminals. But God spared the lives of Israel’s enemies instead because “they are human beings” and that God cares for everyone and “loves all things that he has made” (cf. 11:24).
God has the power to vanquish the wicked “at one blow” by “one decisive word,” but he preferred not to do that. He did judge the offenders but “little by little” [KAT’ OLIGON in Greek). The reason for the gradual punishment is to give them a chance to repent (METANOIA) even if their wickedness was “implanted,” and their “way of thinking would never change.” It is “to remind of the sins they are committing” so that they will have a chance to abandon their wickedness.
Because God is powerful, he can be “lenient to all,” and so God judges with “clemency” (EPIEIKEIA), “great forbearance,” and “measured deliberation” (22a).
MODERATION or SŌPHROSYNĒ is a virtue (ARETĒ) of one who is a PHILANTHROPOS (cf. Wis 8:7; see also Philo, “On Sobriety”). God is the best example of one who possesses PHILANTROPIA, but humans must imitate him.
The Sage closes this section by saying that when human beings judge others, they must have God’s goodness in mind so that when God judges them in turn, they can expect mercy.
Restorative justice is a modern concept, and the sages in the Bible had it against the pervading practice of the death penalty.