Sin and Punishment
3rd Sunday of Lent (C)

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

Why do the innocents suffer and why do the guilty remain unpunished? Those who prosper are not necessarily sinless. Those who suffer are not necessarily sinful. Somebody gave the observation that behind many great fortunes is a hidden crime. There are also those who suffer misfortunes because they are virtuous people. The righteous get persecuted.

Such situations make people question the justice and goodness of God. If God is just, then the guilty should be punished and the righteous should be rewarded. We want God’s justice to be dispensed now and on the spot. We want God to do things according to our own schedule. An author commented that God sees but waits. There lies the problem. God waits and we cannot.

This question about sin and punishment was addressed to Jesus because of two events that happened at that time. Some rebellious Galileans were killed by Roman soldiers in the Temple precints and a tower fell in Siloah which crushed to death eighteen people. Jesus categorically refused to relate their death to their sinfulness. Those who died are not more sinful than those who did not. Jesus refused to pass judgment on the moral condition of those who died. However, He affirms the principle that sin has its consequences. It brings death to the sinner and his environment. It makes victims even of those who are innocent. It brings grief to all those who are affected.

God’s justice may be slow in coming, but this should be a cause for us to be thankful instead of to be resentful. God gives every sinner a chance to repent and change his ways. Jesus told the parable of the fig tree that was not bearing fruit. The owner wanted to cut it down but the gardener appealed to give it another chance. He would take care of it and fertilize it, perhaps it would bear fruit, if not then it would be cut down.

Jesus was making the point that every sinner deserves another chance, and another, and another. In fact, when Peter asked how often he should forgive, Jesus answered, “Seventy times seven” -- or limitless.

We can easily pass judgment on the sins of others and demand immediate punishment, but we can easily gloss over our own sins and ask for another chance. As the famous author Mark Twain said, “Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.” We apply double standards, one for others, another for ourself. Jesus wanted His hearers to look at their own sinfulness and to undergo conversion in their own life. Although God’s justice is limitless for those who sincerely repent, our earthly life is not limitless. There will come a day of judgment. There will come a day of reckoning.

The Lenten season is a penitential season. Instead of looking at the sins of others, let us look at our own need for conversion. Let us be ready to admit and confess our own sins.

There were times in my own experience as a priest in the confessional that I had to gently remind a penitent to please confess his/her sins rather than that of his neighbor or family member. This is one of the scenarios given by priest-professors in charge of examination of seminarians in the “ad auds” or the hearing of confession. How do you deal with a penitent who does not confess his own sin but rather makes a litany of the sins of others?

Let this season of Lent be meaningfully penitential. Sometime during this lenten season let us approach a priest for confession. One does not have to wait for the Holy Week or for the long line on Good Friday to do this. Let us humbly confess our sins and receive God’s forgiveness.