Sunday, 15 March 2015

Judgement Day

Laetare Ierusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam

Oh, excuse me; I was just singing the Introit, but it is true I promised you a homily, which you have no doubt ardently expected, so I shall skip to it right quickly.

The passage from the Letter to the Hebrews, with which the last post ended, hides a secret that shall now be revealed. It is a dark passage, a warning to Christians who reject the consecration and the spiritual riches they have received. After all, we have come to know God, who said: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay,’ and: ‘The Lord will judge his people.’

How do we know God said this? From the Old Testament, obviously. The second sentence is quoted from Deuteronomy 32:36, which reads in the Greek translation: Krinei Kyrios ton laon autou. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews, who wrote in Greek, lifted this sentence from its context to make his point. In its original language, it meant something different.

Krinō means ‘to judge’. From this we derive the words ‘critic’, one who judges; ‘crisis’, a process of judgment; and ‘crime’, a deed liable to judgment. A quick look at the etymological dictionary shows that the word comes from an ancient root meaning ‘to sieve, discriminate, distinguish’. It is an analytical sort of word that conjures up an image of an impartial, impassive observer, looking carefully if the thing under scrutiny meets standards.

The seventh book of the Jewish Bible was called in Greek Kritai, ‘Judges’. In Hebrew, however, it is called Shophetim, ‘rulers, leaders, chieftains’. The connotation of this word is very different: not an impartial observer applying a fixed measure, but a superior who demands obedience and is supposed to work for the good of his people (or less suavely: to bring his tribe to glory).

Similarly, the verb used in ‘The Lord will judge his people’ is dīn, ‘bring justice, put things to rights’. This sounds promising rather than threatening – and so it is. The sentence quoted to terrify in the Letter to the Hebrews brings deliverance in Deuteronomy:

For the LORD will vindicate his people
And take revenge for His servants,
When he sees that their might is gone,
And neither bond nor free is left.

Our judge is not impartial, but a deliverer; after he has taught us not to look for freedom and protection elsewhere, He will (so the poem in Deuteronomy ends)

Wreak vengeance on His foes,
And cleanse the land of His people.