Monday in the First Week of Lent
Leviticus 19:1ff. The basic commandments are set alongside guidance for worship and for social compassion.
Matthew 25:31ff. The final judgment will be based on “As you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.’
Leaving out Luxuries
Both biblical readings deal, like the prophets, with the radical needs and essential elements of human existence. There is no quibbling over small details and luxury items. It becomes a case of life and death, of hunger and thirst, of nakedness and imprisonment. The Scriptures examine our conscience on authentic, basic issues: a blind person, in danger of walking into a stumbling block; a deaf person, abused helplessly with offensive language; a day laborer, prevented from taking home a proper wage to the weakened bodies and dismal eyes of the family.
When issues reach this deeply into the human heart and penetrate so thoroughly into the fibre of human existence, then we come to grips with the most important qualities of life and character. At moments such as these, it is a matter of heaven or hell, life or death, that we put away all grudges and hatred from our hearts, that we forget about revenge and petty quarreling. As Leviticus then concludes: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
Lenten fast and penance, Lenten almsgiving and support, Lenten prayer and Bible study – practises such as these unite all men and women. The wealthier taste the hunger of those more poor than themselves, those more poor share their own habitual heroic dependence on God and their neighbour with the wealthier who can otherwise become too independent and self-sufficient. By these alms the proud can offer the destitute an opportunity for self-respect; by their gracious acceptance the poor can teach the proud how to be of humble heart before God and neighbour.
The book of Leviticus then shouts the deepest laws of creation where we are reduced to that wonderful, common status, all children of God. Therefore, “love your neighbour as yourself.” Unless this divine law is pursued and obediently followed, then at the end of life Jesus can do nothing else but say: “I do not know you!” The final judgment is a solemn ratification of how we have responded to the basic laws of human nature – and here we find the wonderful vision of Jesus: “As often as you did it for one of my least brothers and sisters, you did it for me.” Jesus too is bone of our bones, flesh of our flesh.
First Reading: Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. You shall each revere your mother and father, and you shall keep my sabbaths: I am the Lord your God. Do not turn to idols or make cast images for yourselves: I am the Lord your God.
When you offer a sacrifice of well-being to the Lord, offer it in such a way that it is acceptable on your behalf. It shall be eaten on the same day you offer it, or on the next day; and anything left over until the third day shall be consumed in fire. If it is eaten at all on the third day, it is an abomination; it will not be acceptable. All who eat it shall be subject to punishment, because they have profaned what is holy to the Lord; and any such person shall be cut off from the people.
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.
You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord.
You shall not defraud your neighbour; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a labourer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbour. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbour: I am the Lord.
You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbour, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.
Gospel: Matthew 25:31-46
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited ou?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”