The Baby Shall Play by the Cobra’s Den
Tourists driving through Yellowstone Park used to be “flagged down” by bears begging for food. The travelers thought this was “cute” and usually pulled up on the shoulder of the road to hand them snacks. This practice became a real problem. It was bad for the bears, which got used to being “on the dole” in summer and were, therefore, liable to starve in the winter. It was bad for tourists. Park managers, on the basis of sad experience, had to warn travelers that these bears, far from being “cute”, were wild animals, capable of mauling or even killing passers-by.
Today’s first reading speaks of men and animals living together in mutual trust: wolf with lamb, leopard with goat, calf with lion. There, cobras pose no threat to babies, and poisonous adders enjoy playing with children. But it should be quite clear that this “peaceable kingdom” which the prophet Isaiah describes is not of this world but of the world to come.
Not long ago, the United Press Intentional told a story of a middle-aged Missourian who, like many of us, forgot that the “peaceable kingdom” has not yet arrived. Let’s call him Bob Doe…
Bob certainly loved animals. Several years ago he acquired a rather unusual pet – a baby python. Pythons are not poisonous snakes; they kill by crushing. Doe knew the danger, of course, and thought he was on guard against it. He kept the snake in a secured cage in the cellar, so that it might harm nobody. But every now and then he himself would let it out of the cage and play with it for a while.
By 1983 the serpent had grown to a length of 18 feet and weighed 110 pounds. On April 27th that year, Bob opened the cage so that it might have a stretch. It was their last gambol together. The great snake wrapped around his master’s throat and strangled him to death.
Few of us, I think need to be warned not to trust wild animals. But we do need to be reminded that the drives we have within us are as wild as any bear or python. Addictions, for instance, can kill both our bodies and our souls. Before the arrival of the “peaceable kingdom”, the human heart will continue to be a sort of zoo. It is most important, therefore, that we follow the basic rule of zookeepers: “Never let them out of their cages.”
-Fr. Robert F. McNamara
Q. 453: Who would want to listen to a preacher who is a bug-eater, and dressed in the clothes of a caveman (Gospel: Matthew 3:1-12)? Wouldn’t he “turn off” his listeners?
One must be careful not to mistake the messenger for the message. We must never judge a message by the appearance of the messenger; let the message speak for itself.
The message of John the Baptist is two-fold. First, repent! That message is for all times, for all generations – it is aimed at you and me. We are all sinners; we all need to repent, confess our sins, and then change our life patterns that led to those habitual sins. Secondly, we need to hope! John reminds us that someone else will very soon follow him. That someone, Jesus Christ, will bring the promised love and justice. Love, because he showed us how to love and even gave us a wonderful present: his Holy Spirit to dwell within us! Justice, because he cannot overlook an obstinate refusal to repent and change our ways.
God has provided a sacramental way for us to receive his mercy. However, an “unused” Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) is like a Christmas present that for many people sits “unopened” on the shelf. God’s mercy and love is given freely, and is waiting for each and every person to receive freely. All they need to do is recognize and admit their sinfulness, confess their sins, and promise to amend their lives. This is done in God’s chosen way: through the confessional method in the presence of an ordained Catholic priest.
Either way, we must accept the consequences. If we confess our sins, we are set free from the bondage of Satan and our consequences become the heavenly kingdom. If we do not confess our sins, then our consequences become the eternal kingdom of darkness. To quote Pope Benedict XVI: “Jesus came to tell us…that hell is eternal for those who close their hearts to his love” (March 26, 2007 homily).
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) was the first gift given to the Apostles after the Resurrection: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them…” (John 20:23; see CCC #1441, 1087). John’s warning to repent is the “prologue” or “inaugural address” to the entire Gospel (CCC #523). We must act on God’s message.