Tuesday 7 March 2023 2nd week of Lent
Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the command of our God, you people of Gomorrah. ‘Wash, make yourselves clean. Take your wrong-doing out of my sight. Cease to do evil. Learn to do good, search for justice, help the oppressed, be just to the orphan, plead for the widow. ‘Come now, let us talk this over, says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. ‘If you are willing to obey, you shall eat the good things of the earth. But if you persist in rebellion, the sword shall eat you instead.’
Psalm 49 I will show God’s salvation to the upright.
Addressing the people and his disciples Jesus said, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses. You must therefore do what they tell you and listen to what they say; but do not be guided by what they do: since they do not practise what they preach. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but will they lift a finger to move them? Not they! Everything they do is done to attract attention, like wearing broader phylacteries and longer tassels, like wanting to take the place of honour at banquets and the front seats in the synagogues, being greeted obsequiously in the market squares and having people call them Rabbi.
‘You, however, must not allow yourselves to be called Rabbi, since you have only one master, and you are all brothers. You must call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor must you allow yourselves to be called teachers, for you have only one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.’
I am touched and challenged by the implications of what Isaiah means by, “Wash, make yourselves clean. Take your wrong-doing out of my sight”, because he goes on to articulate it this way, “… do good, search for justice, help the oppressed, be just to the orphan, plead for the widow.” The prophets are so clear in their proclamation of what it means to live as the children of God; make justice for the powerless, lighten the load of the oppressed, and be a voice for those without a voice. Our Lenten practice, if nothing else, demands we do something very practical and very real. It demands integrity and authenticity.
I rang a fellow MSC yesterday who lives on the other side of the planet. I discovered he has stage 4 abdominal cancer. I was so moved by his sharing, and I just listened to how he was feeling and facing into his harsh reality. He was so encouraged and eased by the phone call it surprised me, and for the first time this Lent I felt like I had lived the Gospel a little more authentically, just by picking up the phone and asking him about himself. For those moments, following the way of Jesus seemed not so difficult.
I recall growing up with a very introspective sense of sin and penance. Do good was certainly what we heard ourselves called to, but usually that translated to don’t sin, don’t have bad thoughts (and I’m still not sure what that really means), and do more prayer. It was all about me and about changing myself. I don’t think we ever got to the kind of hypocrisy that Jesus is imputing is present in the scribes and the Pharisees, but we lived with a kind of personal sin that concealed the need for social responsibility. About the most radical outreach to others, I can remember doing, was putting surplus coins into the project compassion boxes that were left on the church pews each Sunday. All of that had its place of course and I judge it lightly.
The Gospel is such a huge invitation to live with integrity, and we would think that people would want nothing else other than to have the joy which comes with living our lives from our natural wholeness and love. But so easily we settle for selling ourselves to what is false popularity, public opinion, or pleasing of others. In that we resemble those Jesus speaks of int he Gospel today.
I think the real challenge of the life of Jesus, and of the season of Lent, is to love your neighbour, be just to them, love them with real help, enable them through compassionate accompaniment to rise beyond what oppresses them. Let us not tie up heavy burdens and lay them on the shoulders of others but be moved to unburden them. Let us rejoice in the truth of who we are, creatures of light, creatures of love, transcendent creatures. Let this be our Lenten penance.