“With the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.”

The proclamation from Isaiah (11:1-10) we heard at Mass today is one of my favorite Old Testament passages.  From its first few verses we derive the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  It reaches toward its conclusion by talking about peace even among the animals.  Beautiful imagery.  It is easy to miss the preconditions for this state of affairs, though.  The “shoot [that] shall sprout from the stump of Jesse” (v. 1), that is, the awaited Messiah, will use the gifts of His Holy Spirit to judge wisely.  Favored will be the “poor” and “afflicted.”  Condemned will be the “ruthless” and “wicked.”

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The verse in the headline should bring to mind the Holy Trinity.  What is the “breath” of God but the Holy Spirit (see Ps 33:6)?  What words come from his “lips” but the eternal Word (Jn 1:1-5)?  Jesus is the perfect judge, having the fullness of all gifts to render just decisions.  “Judge not lest ye be judged” (Mt 7:1)?  Jesus is willing and able to take that challenge.  The world judged Him as a nuisance at best and a criminal and/or blasphemer at worst then tortured and killed Him.  But He reversed that judgment by rising from the dead.

Yet He did not come back seeking revenge (contrary to SNL’s spoof) but rather so that all persons could be saved.  Still, judgment will be made at death on how we’ve lived our lives.  Recall the sheep and the goats (Mt 25:31-46).  Our God is a merciful God and we can sincerely ask for that mercy as long as we draw breath.  But then the demands of justice must be met.  “It is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgment” (Heb 9:27).

So let us not be numbered among the ruthless and wicked.  Rather, let us pray for an increase in the gifts that the Spirit is so willing to shower upon us so that we can “judge wisely the things of earth and hold firm to the things of heaven” (the words we will hear after Communion on Sunday).

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