- Isaiah 54:1-10
- Luke 7:24-30
Et omnis populus audiens et publicani, justificaverunt Deum, baptizati baptismo Joannis. Pharisaei autem et legisperiti consilium Dei spreverunt in semetipsos, non baptizati ab eo.
And all the people hearing, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with John’s baptism. But the Pharisees and the lawyers despised the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized by him.
…all the people hearing, and the publicans, justified God… It’s such a curious phrase, no? It is not a wonky translation in the Douay, many of the extant English versions render this phrase in Luke 7:29 as some version of the people “justified God.” The Greek word is ἐδικαίωσαν and it means “I declare righteous”. In other words, the Bible is saying that the masses of people Baptized by John said that God was justified in his condemnation of those very people. On the other hand, the Pharisees “despised the counsel of God against themselves.” Imagine coming to court and saying to the Judge, “My accuser is correct.” That’s what’s happening here.
It comes up in another place, in the Old Testament: in Psalm 50 (or 51, New Style). In Verse 4 (or Verse 6, if you’re counting like in the LXX) the holy Prophet David pictures God in a court case and says, “that thou mayst be justified in thy words and mayst overcome when thou art judged.” The word rendered “Justified” is the same Greek word we have in the Gospel today. It’s represented by the same word in Latin as well. A lot of translations, however, dodget this one – try to make it sound like “When God judges, he’s right” rather than “when we look at God’s actions, we see he’s right.”
See, in the abstract, it’s ok to say, “God’s right”. Everyone says that – even, really, the demons say that. It’s really hard to say, “From where I am in my life, I can see you’re right, God.” Do you see the difference? The beginning of repentance may be the realization that “Something’s wrong here.” But when you look around, when you investigate all the options, the second step in repentance has to be saying, “God’s right.” We cannot fully acknowledge that we have missed the mark until we first admit that there is mark to miss. All else is just a show. Before you can say, “My life is unmanageable” you have to know what a rightly managed life looks like and you have to admit that that other option is way better than the one you have so recently been taking.
The Pharisees, be they the ancient Jewish legal sort, the modern political activist sort, the classic capitalist short, or whatever other sort there may be are all quite happy with saying, “God’s right” but they don’t want God to speak: they will deny his revelation. If someone else should point out the revelation of God, they have a good excuse. We can ignore that because we know XYZ to be the case now, and we know so much better than this God person. We can ignore what he says about life because this isn’t a life growing in me, it is a lump of tissue. We can ignore what he says about loving your brother because that’s an oppressor (capitalist, racist, sexist, homophobe, nazit, trupist, clintonista, abortionist, rigid traditionalist, whateverist). We can ignore what he says about sex because Freud. We can ignore what he says about welcoming the stranger because they’re Muslims. We can ignore what he says about loving your enemy because 9/11.Pharisees always have a reason to ignore God. They even make up stories about how they can argue better than God. And, boy, didn’t they get one over on him then?
It’s really important to ask oneself where one stands with God. If the answer is not “prostrate before him begging mercy” one is standing in the wrong place, I think.