Sunday Scripture readings, Dec. 4, 2022: Second Sunday of Advent
1) Is 11:1-10 Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17
2) Rom 15:4-9 Gospel: Mt 3:1-12
Prophets would be surprised that Jesus came as God’s mercy, not his wrath
Today Isaiah delivers a grand promise. God is going to send his Spirit to empower and guide someone to rule humanity for him (“The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him”).
He will straighten out society according to God’s ideas of justice (“He shall … decide aright for the land’s afflicted. He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth”).
How this will happen is more than the human mind can grasp. But there’s no question that it is something to look forward to.
Today’s Gospel announces that this vision is beginning to be fulfilled. John the Baptist declares that the empowered-by-God ruler is now arriving:
“His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
This news is good for the afflicted, not so good for the ruthless!
But at this point, God’s plan takes an unexpected turn. The one on whom the Spirit rests, Jesus, comes not to execute immediate judgment but to help everyone prepare to meet it.
He opens an opportunity for the “ruthless” to repent. He grants forgiveness to sinners. He even gives a share of his Spirit to those who respond to him, to enable them to change. And the structures of injustice in the world? He leaves them be, for now.
Whether Isaiah would have been astonished at this turn, we can only speculate. There is reason to think that John the Baptist was surprised (see Mt 11:2-6). He knew Jesus was the one to come — but where was the judgment?
God’s way is so patient and merciful that, as we look at the terrible injustices in the world, we might wish it had a little more judgment in it, coming sooner rather than later.
There was even an Old Testament prophet who said something of this sort to God — Jonah, who accused God of being too merciful for giving his enemies an opportunity to repent (Jon 3:10-4:3).
God calls us to embrace his way of working, even when we feel like crying out against it. And so we face a choice. Will we take offense (see Mt 11:6)? Or trust him?
As for me, I find that I can hardly wish God were less merciful, being myself in need of so much mercy.
Perrotta is the editor and an author of the “Six Weeks With the Bible” series, teaches part time at Siena Heights University and leads Holy Land pilgrimages. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.