Romans 2:1-11 / Ps. 62:1-9 / Lk. 11:42-46
When I was in the Navy, during and just after the Korean War, one of the places our Destroyer visited was Hong Kong. We went there once a year for a long weekend of R & R. On my first visit to Hong Kong the squadron Chaplain and I went on a sight seeing tour that included a place called “The Tiger Balm Gardens”. It was a memorial to Aw Boon Haw the inventor of an ointment called “Tiger Balm”, manufactured in Singapore, and still sold throughout the world. The garden consisted of a number of brightly colored plaster sculptures along a road winding down the hillside above the “Happy Valley Race Track”. Between the race track and the lower part of the garden, in the narrow part of the valley, was a refugee camp made up of huts put together out of whatever material the refugees could find.
One portion of the display in the Tiger Balm Garden, that I remember quite vividly, depicted the various kinds of punishment meted out in the Taoist hell, as I recall the guide’s explanation. One of them, showed souls in hell being run over by cars, trucks, and busses. This was the punishment for those who had been careless drivers in their lifetime. Another showed souls being sawn asunder by cross cut saws. This, we were told, was the punishment for gossip, unkind words, and verbal abuse. These things reminded me of some of the ancient Greek myths, such as Sisyphus, a dishonest king, having to roll a stone up a steep hill, but never getting it to the top before it would roll back down. It also reminded me of some of the punishments for sinners described by Dante in his books, The Inferno, and Purgatory.
In today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans we heard these words of Paul addressed to sinners: “By your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one’s deeds.” ( Rom. 2:5-6) But Paul refrained from putting as sharp a point on it as was portrayed in the panorama in the Tiger Balm Gardens, or in the ancient Greek myths, or in the writings of Dante.
Paul, as we heard, went on to say; “to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, [God] will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. (Vv 7-8) The passage read today ends with the words, “For God shows no partiality.” (V. 11)
Today’s Gospel reading was entirely about sin. The Epistle reading was mostly about sin, but it did point to redemption. For those who are bothered by the threat of eternal punishment after death, and by feelings of guilt in this lifetime, I think a source of hope can be found in Psalm verses such as we sang for our Gradual today:
“For God alone my soul in silence waits;
truly, my hope is in him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken.
In God is my safety and my honor;
God is my strong rock and my refuge.”
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