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Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.—Isaiah 1:18
VATICAN CITY — At today’ s Wednesday audience in a sunny St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis reflected on the relationship between God the Father’s merciful love and his correction.
“The consequence of sin is a state of suffering,” the pope said. And “where God and his fatherhood are rejected, life is no longer possible.” But in the divine plan, “punishment becomes the instrument to make us reflect” and can lead to conversion, forgiveness, and a renewed relationship with the Lord.
Here below we publish a translation of the pope’ s catechesis for March 2, 2016.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. In speaking of divine mercy, we have repeatedly evoked the figure of the Father of a family who loves his children, helps them, cares for them and forgives them. And as a Father, he forms and corrects them when they go astray, thereby encouraging their growth in goodness.
This is how God is presented in the first chapter of the prophet Isaiah, in which the Lord, as a father who is loving, but also careful and strict, addresses Israel, accusing it of infidelity and corruption in order to bring it back to the path of justice. Our text begins:
“Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth;
for the Lord has spoken:
‘Sons have I reared and brought up,
but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its owner,
And the ass its master’s crib;
But Israel does not know,
My people does not understand.”—Isaiah, 1:2-3
God, through the prophet, speaks to the people with the bitterness of a dismayed father. He raised his children, and now they have rebelled against him. Even animals are loyal to their master and recognize the hand that feeds them; but the people no longer recognize God; they refuse to understand. Though wounded, God allows love to speak, and he appeals to the conscience of these degenerate children so that they might repent and allow themselves to love again. This is what God does; he comes to us in order that we might allow ourselves to be loved by him, by our God.
The father-son relationship to which the prophets often refer in speaking of the covenant relationship between God and his people has been distorted. The educative mission of parents aims at enabling their children to grow in freedom, to be responsible, capable of performing good works for themselves and for others. Instead, because of sin, freedom becomes a claim to autonomy, a prideful claim, and pride leads to opposition and to the illusion of self-sufficiency.
This is when God calls back his people: “You have the wrong path.” Fondly and bitterly, he says “my” people. God never rejects us. We are his people: the most evil of men, the most evil of women — the most evil people are his children. And this is God: He never, never gives up on us. He always says: “Son, come.” And this is the love of our Father; this is the mercy of God.
Having a father like this gives us hope, it gives us confidence. This belonging should be lived in trust and obedience, in the knowledge that everything is a gift that comes from the Father’s love. And instead there is the vanity, folly and idolatry. And so now the prophet directly addresses the people with severe words that help them understand the gravity of their offense:
“Ah, sinful nation, […] sons who deal corruptly!
They have forsaken the Lord,
The have despised the Holy One of Israel,
They are utterly estranged.” (v. 4)
The consequence of sin is a state of suffering, undergone even by the land, which is devastated and made a desert, such that Zion — which is Jerusalem — becomes uninhabitable. Where God and his fatherhood are rejected, life is no longer possible. Life loses its roots; everything seems perverted and destroyed.
However, even this painful moment exists in view of salvation. The trial is given so that the people may experience the bitterness of those who abandon God, and then confront the bleak emptiness of a choice for death. Suffering, as the inevitable consequence of a self-destructive decision, has to make the sinner reflect in order to open him to conversion and forgiveness.
And this is the path of divine mercy: God does not treat us according to our sins (cf. Psalm 103:10). Punishment becomes the instrument to make us reflect. Thus we see that God forgives his people, he is gracious and does not destroy everything, but always leaves the door open to hope. Salvation involves the decision to listen and be converted, but it remains a free gift.
The Lord, in his mercy, then indicates a road not of ritual sacrifices but of justice. Worship is criticized not as being unnecessary in itself but because, rather than expressing conversion, it claims to replace it; and so it becomes a search for one’s own righteousness, creating the misleading belief that sacrifices save and not the divine mercy that pardons sin.
To enable us to understand: When someone is sick, he goes to the doctor; when someone feels he a sinner, he goes to the Lord. But if, instead of going to the doctor, he goes to a sorcerer, he doesn’t get better. So often we do not go to the Lord; instead, we prefer to go down wrong paths, looking for righteousness, justice, peace outside of him.
God, the prophet Isaiah says, does not delight in the blood of bulls and lambs (v. 11), especially if the offering is made with hands stained by the blood of brothers (v. 15). I think of some of the benefactors of the Church who come with the offer: “Take this offering for the Church.” It is the fruit of the blood of so many people who have been exploited, abused, and enslaved with poorly paid work. And I will say to these people: “Please, take back your check and burn it.” The people of God, the Church, doesn’t need blood money; it needs hearts that are open to God’s mercy. We have to approach God with hands that have been washed, by avoiding evil and practicing good and justice. How beautifully the prophet concludes:
“Cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
defend the fatherless,
plead for the widow.” (vv. 16-17)
Think about the many refugees who land in Europe and don’t know where to go.
Then the Lord says, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, and pure like wool, and the people shall eat the good of the land and live in peace (v. 18).
This is the miracle of God’s forgiveness, the forgiveness that God as Father wants to give to his people. The mercy of God is offered to all, and these words of the prophet apply today to all of us who are called to live as children of God.
Translation by Diane Montagna of Aleteia’s English edition.