Back in 2005, The world watched as Hurricane Katrina
slammed into the coast of Louisiana,
Overwhelmed the levees and flooded the city of New Orleans.
IT was for many, yet another disaster movie moment in a century
Which, starting with September 11th
had already produced far too many such moments.
We were horrified at the pictures of the flooded streets.
Incensed at the government’s lack of a coordinated response
Stunned at the scenes of New Orleans’s citizens,
huddling in the Astrodome,
Struggling to leave the city
or drowning in its streets.
But in the days following the storm,
as the country began to address this natural disaster,
A group of voices began to be heard.
Televangelists Pat Robertson, Hal Lindsay even Chuck Colson of Watergate fame all claimed
that Hurricane Katrina was not a natural disaster,
but a SUPERNATURAL one.
They, and many other televangelists, claimed
that in Katrina was GOD punishing America for its sins.
The sins being punished were different according to the televangelist;
Abortion, homosexuality, our soft stand on terrorism.
But on one point all of them agreed;
God was punishing America.
Many people mocked this idea.
However, many other people, feared it was true.
Not so much because they were
conservative of liberal,
prochoice or prolife
gay friendly or homophobic;
But because if they had any religious formation,
that is how they were taught God acts;
God sitting up in heaven,
tallying up all our good works
and far more importantly our bad ones.
And the interesting thing is,
that while this might frighten us when it comes to our behavior,
The reason why this belief in how God acts remains so pervasive,
Is that we want God to do this when it comes to others.
We want someone to bless us when we do good,
so that we get what is coming to us.
we want someone to punish others when they do bad,
so that they get what is coming to them.
We want to make sure that everyone gets what is coming to them; after all, it’s only fair.
We want God to do it, even though at times it seems like God does not;
For in our world nowadays it is corporate criminals who get away with millions,
Corrupt politicians who escape indictment
And terrorists who take lives with impunity.
The world seems so unfair sometimes
that we think God has stopped the punishing.
Which may be the reason why try so hard to;
we punish others, and often times punish ourselves,
for the only conclusion we can come to when we are the ones who suffer punishment,
is that we are sinners and only getting what we deserve.
This was the only conclusion the people of Israel in the 6th Century BC could come to.
For they understood themselves to be God’s people
And that God would protect and love them always.
Yet God had not protected them from the armies of Babylon
God had not spared them from the destruction of His holy house, the temple in Jerusalem
God had not delivered them from exile.
Now they were separated from the land and separated from God.
IT seemed they were dying.
This was the only conclusion that the Christians in the 1st century AD could come to
For they understood themselves as God’s people
And that God would favor them always
And yet were persecuted by family and friends
imprisoned by the roman government
It seemed they were dying
At both times and in both places the only conclusion they could come to
is that they had sinned;
God was punishing them.
And that they were only getting what we deserve.
Of course, they heard the words of that anonymous prophet whom we call “3rd” Isaiah in the first reading.
They heard him say that God is not far from them God is near
For God’s ways are not like our ways.
And thus, God is not punishing them in exile
but preserving them there
God is giving them what they deserve, but strangely enough, despite everything they see around them, that is not punishment but mercy.
Of course, they heard Jesus in the Gospel reading,
Chaffing as they were under the yoke of Rome
They heard him say that God is like a landowner
who paid the same generous wage,
no matter how long you worked,
That God was not would not punish them for their unfaithfulness,
but reward them for any faithfulness.
For God’s ways are not like our ways
and that God would always give them what they deserve;
but strangely enough, despite everything they saw around them
that was not death but life.
It is little wonder that third Isaiah’s words got added to the back of the far more respectable prophet Isaiah’s book,
For such words of mercy did not jibe with the God many people believed in,
No, in Babylon they got what they deserved.
IT is little wonder that Jesus was nailed to a Cross,
For such stories about God’s generosity and new life did not jibe with the ways they were sure God worked.
No, in the crucifixion, Jesus was only getting what he deserved.
That is until something happened.
For in the middle of the 7th century BC, Babylon was conquered by Persia . . . and miracle of miracles, the people of Israel were permitted to return to their land, their home.
And on a Sunday morning in the 1st century, Jesus, who had been nailed to a cross the previous Friday, was given back to his followers alive.
Of course, at first, they could not believe it,
and then did not understand it,
but over time what both the Jews of the 6th century BC
came to see in their return to the promised land
and the Christians of the 1st
came to see in the return of Jesus to life
Was that God’s ways were truly not our ways;
that where they saw punishment and death as only getting what they deserved,
when God actually gave them what they deserved, it was not punishment and death but the offer of mercy and life.
Fifteen years later, natural disasters occur with a regularity and ferocity
that make Katrina look like a spring rain.
The southern states are being pummeled by hurricane after hurricane,
The west is stricken by yet another year of drought
And for days our skies have been blanketed by a thick haze of smoke,
caused by the fires burning in California.
where are the televangelists and pundits thundering from their pulpits that God is punishing America?
Of course, some are older and retired;
Others are under investigation for crimes
Or have had to retreat due to scandal.
But in point of fact their silence is probably more dur to simple embarrassment
For the current administration is one that many of them favor;
And thus God’s “punishment” is difficult for them to explain.
But them maybe it is actually quite simple.
The explanation is, that despite what we might have learned, and want to believe,
The God is these people are talking about
is not the God of the first Reading and not the God of Jesus Christ.
For the message of Jesus Christ, the news that makes the Good news of the Gospel so good,
is that God indeed gives us what we deserve;
in Good times and bad,
through natural disasters and times of growth and peace;
Whether we came to the table first or struggle to get there at the last minute.
but what God gives us is NOT punishment
but mercy, forgiveness and the chance to begin again;
with God, and with one another.