The call to repentance, faith and good deeds crosses all the great faiths. As the quotation from the Qur’an shows, we are called to a faith that drives us into action. With humble faith in God we are to live our lives in radical service and not to do evil. In the sura [chapter] from which our text is taken, God warns that those who sin will endure divine punishment. This is consistent with today’s readings – from Ezekiel (18:21-28) and Matthew (5:20-26). Yet in all three great faiths we are reminded not to take pleasure in the punishment of the wicked, but to rejoice rather when a wicked person repents.
I fear many of us actually take delight when the ‘wicked’ are exposed, and most of all when they are punished. I know many who can’t wait to read about the next political crisis, the next corruption case, in the newspapers. For those who have always resented, or been sceptical of, our new democracy, the delight is mixed with an attitude of “I told you so!”
This is not the way we should behave. It is quite right that political and economic misdeeds should be revealed – and it is sad to see how often people seem to wriggle out of being made to account for their actions through the all-too-frequent ‘lost evidence’ or simply bungled police procedure. It is also infuriating to see how a number of convicted felons have been let off the hook on the ‘compassionate grounds’ of sudden terminal illness – only to be seen out playing golf within a week or so of release! (Though it is encouraging that the Presidency is finally starting to signal a shift in this regard.)
The Gospel, I think, offers us a twofold way to deal with this. The tone of Jesus’ speech is quite angry and uncompromising. And I think, in the name of good governance and a society based on the rule of law, we are entitled to be angry when justice is subverted, particularly when there seems to be two standards of law – one for the powerful, and another for the rest of us.
The second aspect we need to consider is Jesus’ injunction to each one of us: unless our righteousness surpasses that of those who hold power, we shall not enter the Kingdom. Our great temptation in the face of the double standard is to develop a cynical attitude and do as we like –then, when caught, we excuse our actions by appealing to the bad examples within the elite! Corruption, as I’ve noted earlier, is pervasive. It is pervasive because we let ourselves be corrupted. The result is that we become part of the problem, and not an example of the solution.
Let us, this Lent, combat corruption at every level – starting with wherever it might be in our own lives.