God revealed himself to the Chosen People but their understanding of him could be very simplistic. Virtue was rewarded with prosperity, evil punished with adversity. Miriam got leprosy because she rebelled against her brother Moses (Numbers 12:1-11), Lot’s wife was turned to a pillar of salt because she looked back (Genesis 19:26) and King David was punished for his adultery with Bathsheba and for instigating the death of her husband when their child became ill and died (2 Sam. 15-16). It is probable however that these events came about through natural causes.
The Book of Job is an example of wisdom literature, where the problem of suffering is explored more deeply. Job is a good man yet he undergoes terrible misfortunes and his so-called friends point out to him that he must have sinned. Unfortunately the image of a vengeful God has persisted to this day; older people will still remember “Hellfire sermons.” This has meant that, for many people, the God of love and forgiveness is absent from their lives. Far from being a dear friend to whom a person can confide their problems and anxieties, he is seen as a stern judge ready to pass sentence. They might remember the words spoken to St Clare of Assisi in the voice of a young child: “I will take care of you always.”
God portrayed his loving kindness in the person of Jesus Christ who spent his short life healing people, as in today’s gospel, and showing them how much they were loved by his father.