October 31, 2012
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Matthew 14:1-2.
At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the reputation of Jesus and said to his servants, “This man is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why mighty powers are at work in him.”
I am not a suspicious person and I don’t believe in retributions from the dead. But I still sometimes think that current difficulties are the consequence of my previous actions. I guess we’re all a little superstitious. In this instance it was Herod’s guilty conscience that was speaking through him. He believed in a kind of reincarnation where the dead would bedevil the living.
Our actions do have consequences. I believe that our minds and our unconscious selves are masterful at manipulating us. We often punish ourselves for our sins and transgressions, although we like to attribute it to something else. In Herod Antipas’ situation it was the ghost of John who had somehow been raised from the dead to haunt and torture Herod, to punish him for murdering John. It was less disturbing for Herod to consciously ascribe this to the ghost of John than to his own guilt.
I heard today that some rightwing Christians have been attesting that Hurricane Sandy’s torrent of destruction was the punishment of God upon the mid-Atlantic states for their support of gay marriage. That’s the line of thinking that the Phelps family uses in picketing funerals of fallen soldiers as punishment for the country’s tolerance of homosexuality.
But I don’t think God works this way. I certainly don’t think that He punishes the innocent to make a point with the guilty. In my reflection yesterday, Jesus used the story of the master in telling his servants not pull up the weeks lest they uproot the wheat as well. Final judgment is reserved for God.
Thinking, reflective people — which certainly does not represent all people — punish themselves for their sins to a greater extent than God probably does. People like that are harsher, less forgiving
of themselves and their sins and shortcomings than God is of them.
That’s not people like Herod, though. Consciously, they are oblivious to the consequences of their sins. But their unconscious selves are not so forgiving. I think God speaks to them through their unconscious. They can’t escape. It reminds me of a friend who thinks that hell is what life on our life on earth is. I don’t share that belief, but I think for the truly guilty, the hideously evil, it may be true. God may make their life on earth a living hell because for them there will be no heaven.
In what ways do I (my unconscious) make may life a living hell? In what ways am I unwilling to own my own sinfulness, my own destructive, hateful actions? My life on earth is not meant to be a living hell; it is meant to be lived in the kingdom of God. In what ways am I preventing that from happening? Any time that I think that God is punishing me for something I’ve done, that’s a sign to acknowledge my sin and ask God for forgiveness, to own my sin and not blame others. It’s an opportunity to reenter the kingdom of God and leave behind my living hell.