Do I Derive Pleasure from the Death of the Wicked

Dr. Paul Wojda, Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas, authored today’s Lenten Reflection for the University of St. Thomas Office for Spirituality’s Seasonal reflections.  Prompted by today’s first Mass reading from the Book of Ezekiel (18:21-28), it ought to make us a bit uncomfortable about how we respond to those we villify.  Rather than summarize it, I include it in full for your reflection.

“Do I indeed derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked?”

Charles Dickens may well have had these lines from Ezekiel in mind when he was writing his now famous conversion narrative, A Christmas Carol (1843). At the final and decisive visit of the third spirit (“The Spirit of Christmas Yet-to-Come”), the misanthropic Scrooge is given a vision of his own death, or rather a vision of some reactions to his death, none of them cheering. Three businessmen bemusedly remark that Scrooge’s funeral will certainly not be very well attended. Indeed, one of them only plans on going if a meal will be served. Scrooge’s own housekeeper is greedily pawning, to a sketchy character named “Old Joe,” the household goods she lifted. And a poor couple on the miser’s hook rejoice: they will now have a bit more time to repay their debt.

We all know what happens next. But let’s be honest, would any of us have shed a tear if, instead of his remarkable turnabout and subsequent generosity, especially where Tiny Tim is concerned, old Ebeneezer died in his sleep that Christmas Eve?

I suspect not. I know I wouldn’t have. On the contrary, wouldn’t we, don’t we, shouldn’t we actually rejoice? Serves him right. Bad guy gets it in the end. What goes around comes around. Just deserts. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Praise the Lord. Right? Wrong.

If Dickens’ classic story is a morality tale, then it challenges us to take the measure, not so much of Scrooge’s mercy, but of our own. How narrow and shriveled are ourhearts? If we rejoice that Scrooge found new life–that what he thought was a fateful choice to reject love was in fact not irrevocable–then should we not also lament the possibility that he might have missed the opportunity?

Should we not likewise lament our own failures to grasp new life, resurrection, when it extends its hands to us? By all means, let us lament together. That is Lent. Let us begin where Jesus himself proposes in today’s Gospel: by disowning the pleasures we take in our many angers, grudges, and resentments.

As Marley might say, we have nothing to lose but our chains.

You can read all of the Lenten Reflections here.


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