“Do not be amazed at this,
because the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs
will hear his voice and will come out,
those who have done good deeds
to the resurrection of life,
but those who have done wicked deeds
to the resurrection of condemnation.”
You can see how these verses might have set off the fearsome homilist. Tragically more often than not, such use of fear misses the mark since fear breeds fear. Perhaps, as a last resort, after offering the attraction of love, it may be necessary to warn against the tragic consequences of wicked deeds, but this only comes after a clear and enticing presentation of the beauty of the love of God. A few verses earlier (in today’s gospel) we have been offered the abundance of divine love: “I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life”.
It is also helpful to consider the overall message of the other readings of the Liturgy of the Church for the day, not only the Mass readings but also those from the Liturgy of the Hours. In the second reading from today’s Office of Readings we hear from the seventh century monk and theologian St. Maximus the Confessor:
“So too, when he found wandering in the mountains and hills the one sheep that had strayed from God’s flock of a hundred, he brought it back to the fold, but he did not exhaust it by driving it ahead of him. Instead, he placed it on his own shoulders and so, compassionately, he restored it safely to the flock.
Such gentle and divine love is presented most intimately in the first reading from today’s Mass. This is one of the most often quoted and memorable Old Testament passages. You might like to carry it with you today, perhaps write it on a slip of paper and keep it in a pocket to take out and read in the difficult moments, or while waiting at the lights:
“Can a mother forget her infant,
be without tenderness for the child of her womb?
Even should she forget,
I will never forget you.” Isaiah 49:15
May our personal experience of such abundant love safely restore us to confidence in the presence and power of his love for us.