A four-year-old was sulking under the table. He had been refused a second helping of ice-cream. His mother ordered him out, but the boy wouldn’t budge. She fried coaxing, but nothing doing. When finally she promised him the ice-cream, he trotted out triumphantly and they both went out to get his reward from the fridge. The visitor was left alone with the other witness of this little domestic scene, the little boy’s grandmother. While mother and son were being reunited over a dish of ice-cream in the kitchen, the old lady said to her visitor, “She isn’t fair to that boy; he doesn’t know any better. She should have punished him.” The visitor had never heard it put that way before: Punishment as a service due to a child. It underlined an important change in attitude between the two generations.
This change was confirmed by a survey once carried out on the religious attitudes among Irish university students. That boy might have been one of those questioned then. While 56% said they believed in heaven, only half that number, 28%, believed in hell. The ice-cream approach to wrongdoing won hands down. Reward as an incentive rather than punishment as a deterrent, was easily the more acceptable answer to wrongdoers. Incidentally, 58% of those interviewed believed in wrongdoing, i.e. sin. Why should not reward and punishment both be acceptable responses to behavior. This was the received wisdom, where both the stick and the carrot had a role in the formation of the people of God. While our first parents were expelled from the Garden of Eden as punishment for eating the forbidden fruit, the complaining followers of Moses were rewarded with manna to encourage them on their difficult way through the desert.
Political scandals involving corruption and bribery among highly-paid public figures should give us reason to reflect. It is tempting to speculate that as children they picked their mother’s purse or otherwise misbehaved, secure in the belief that they would not be caught or, at that if caught, they would go unpunished. Our present culture of impunity among the elite gets no support from today’s 2nd Reading. The author has no doubt that proportionate punishment is part of a wise Providence.
For the Lord trains the ones he loves and punishes all those that he acknowledges as his sons. Suffering is part of your training; God is treating you as his sons. Has there ever been any son whose father did not train him? Of course, any punishment is most painful at the time, and far from pleasant; but later, in those on whom it has been used, it bears fruit in peace and goodness.
Adapted: Association of Catholic Priests