Tuesday in the Second Week of Lent
Isaiah 1:10ff. A ringing prophetic call to personal conversion: “remove your evildoings from before my eyes”
Matthew 23:1ff. Unlike the hierarchical customs of Judaism, in Jesus’ circle “the greatest among you will be your servant.”
Charity is vital, in order to have genuine personal integrity
The Scriptures for this day inculcate consistency and integral wholeness of life. All must fit together: thoughts and actions, interior esteem and exterior forms of justice. This harmonious interaction reaches outward, beyond one’s clothing and titles, beyond one’s immediate circle of friends and acquaintances, to all the poor and needy within reach and beyond! “Redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea and defend the widow.” Orphan and widow symbolize in the Bible all the helpless and indigent people of the world. Isaiah the prophet mentions them after a stern and fearsome passage, omitted in the liturgy. To neglect the poor while spreading out one’s hands in prayer to God forces from God the terrifying response: “I close my eyes to you … I will not listen.” In fact, such indifference towards the poor, God declares, makes “your hands . . . full of blood!” The prophet must have shouted the next phrase. “Wash yourselves clean!” How? – by attending to the orphan and widow.
The poor, consequently, are members of one’s own family, one’s own wife and children, those left behind without protection. The entire family must close ranks around its own flesh and blood. Not to do so makes it guilty of blood! We shudder, for we have all passed by a beggar without giving alms. We have all driven comfortably through slums. We have wasted food in the same city where widow and orphan were going to bed with aching hearts and pinched stomachs. We are frightened as God shouts in his indignation: “Come now, let us set things right!”
Despite such serious sins – sins of omission to feed the starving and to defend the helpless – God offers the possibility of total conversion. “Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool.”
God, too, is totally consistent, just as he demands of us. God does not leave us sinful at heart and simply clothe us with a beautiful appearance – with the phylacteries and tassels of holiness! We are totally transformed. He alone is our teacher, our father, our messiah, our all. Therefore, we are guided by God, enlivened by God, saved by God – totally God’s through and through.
Our initial fear suddenly changes into the peace, joy and security of the blessed. We find that the heavenly family closes ranks around us because we have gathered the poor within our earthly family. Because we have served the lowly, we are gathered into the assembly of the great saints; because we have humbled ourselves to be one family with the oppressed, we are exalted to the company of God’s favourites.
All this happens “if you are willing and obey.” “But if you refuse and resist, the sword shall consume you, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” We may question if Isaiah’s consoling message of forgiveness and new life should end on such a terrifying note. Consistency and integral wholeness are a matter of life or death, of family or disintegration. The offer of total love has no other option.
First Reading: Isaiah 1:10, 16-20
Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Gospel: Matthew 23:1-12
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father – the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves ill be exalted.