Psalms 124:1-3, 4-6, 7-8
When I teach Dante’s Inferno in my world literature class, certain aspects always upset the students. First they are upset that there are people in hell for sins that aren’t even sins anymore, and second, they are upset that there are clergy in hell: priests, bishops, cardinals, even popes. These things don’t seem appropriate or logical, but they can be explained by today’s readings, especially the gospel.
We are taught that hell is forever, so theoretically people who ate meat on a Friday, 50 years ago, are still in hell today even though that isn’t a sin anymore. In the Inferno there are people whose sin was charging interest for loaning money. Today we would call them bankers. In 1300 they were sinners, but they’re still in hell today. But they knew at the time that they were sinning. They knew they were deliberately going against the law and the laws of the church. They were aware of the restrictions, and they chose to ignore them. They knew they were sinning, and they deliberately went on with their actions. And they knew the ramifications of their actions.
The first reading tells people to avoid sin, tells them not to let sin rule them or let lusts overwhelm them. They should give themselves up totally to God and to be under his rule. And the gospel says that the people have been told how to act and what the ramifications for sin are. They don’t know when they will be called to judgement, but they are aware of what they should do and what they should not do. People who continue to sin, thinking they have all the time in the world to repent, may be surprised. And those who have been told, and those who have been chosen to teach, are held to that standard. Those who know they are sinning, but continue to sin, will be held to their actions. And those who have studied the law, who teach the law, but who sin themselves, will be held to a higher standard.
In the Inferno there are clergy in hell. They are in hell because they sinned, and the gospel says it goes worse for them. They not only knew what they were supposed to do, they were supposed to be models for others and they were supposed to teach and help others avoid sin. “When much has been given a man, much will be required of him. More will be asked of a man to whom more has been entrusted."
We have been told how to act, and what will happen if we don’t. The servant knew the master wanted the house taken care of, not abused, and knew what would happen if he was surprised by his master. We’ve been given knowledge and love, and we’ve been entrusted with sharing that love with others and treating people with love and tolerance. We’ve been given much, and much is expected of us.
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