Sirach 15:15-20; 1Cor 2:6-10; Mt 5:1-37
If you’ve ever wondered where the scriptural basis for the Catholic belief in Purgatory is located, look no further than today’s gospel. Jesus warns that if one does not settle with an opponent on the way to court, that person might find him/herself on the losing end of the legal dispute and be tossed into the slammer. (None of that “innocent until proven guilty” or “due process” stuff in Jesus’ day.) “Amen, I say to you,” Jesus concludes, “you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”
Granted, this is a rather obscure scriptural connection and largely metaphorical. The key point, however, that the Church in its’ Spirit infused wisdom recognized was that maybe death (symbolized in the metaphor by the prison cell) didn’t quite have the finality we thought it did. It was possible, even probable, that those who had departed this life not fully able to respond to God’s Love and thus enter into the glory of Heaven might yet have a chance to experience that “beatific vision” as Paul calls it. A chance, in other words, to “pay the last penny” after death.
If you’ve ever heard of a little thing called the Indulgence Crisis or the Protestant Reformation then you know the Church has in past ages taken a beautiful idea – that God’s mercy is much wider than the boundaries of mortal life – and corrupted it terribly due to greed and a ridiculously literal understanding of “paying the last penny.” Fortunately, we are doing much better now.
Why, despite all of the Grace God pours upon us during this life, providing each of us with every possible opportunity to say “Yes” to that divine call to love and be loved, would God go to such absurd lengths to bring us home? St. Paul tells us that eye has not scene nor ear heard what God has ready for those who love him.
How could God bear the thought that any one of the precious and unique souls God created might miss out on that?
Jim Philipps (3rd millennium pilgrim)
(To read my book length commentaries on the scriptures, go to www.twentythirdpublications.com. My latest book is entitled “Make Room For Scripture”.)