Is 1:10, 16-20; Ps 50:8,9,16,17,21,23; Mt 23:1-12
“Offers praise as a sacrifice”
This is the gift of a holy Lent. The LORD God corrects us by drawing our attention to the way we so easily recite his statutes while hating discipline and casting his words behind us. It is not extra prayer or even extra masses that causes any divine rebuke. Indeed, our offerings are before the LORD always, especially during Lent. However, our hearts may not be in these devotional practices. It is this heartlessness that evokes the LORD’s correction. He loves us just as we are, but he loves us too much to leave us just as we are. Praise in the heart is what glorifies God. Following his Way, Truth, and Life, is what enables us to experience the salvation of our LORD. The prophet Isaiah is the Mouth of the LORD and in our first reading he commands us to set things right. Our Advent Prophet has a Lenten Summons for all who can hear the word of the LORD. The Lord Jesus reminds us of the Ash Wednesday gospel not to look for praise in our devotional practices, but we are to give true praise by lives of humble service.
Isaiah provides all who preach with a model Lenten homily. Although Sodom and Gomorrah have been destroyed for centuries, their princes and people still live among us. Sin and evil abound in the human heart and among the human community, even the in the Church. When will we put away our misdeeds from before the LORD? When will we cease doing evil and learn to do good? When will justice be our aim and redressing the wronged our goal? When will we hear the orphan’s plea and defend the widow? Painful questions abound in this time of penance. The LORD goes beyond challenging us. He invites us, “Come now, let us set things right”. This is the moment of grace. This is the unexpected mercy of our God. He wants us to join him in making justice abound and peace triumph. He does not expect us to save ourselves. Indeed, the LORD our God is the one and only Savior. The promise is radical and so very hopeful, “Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool”. Obedience to this mission of Christ from the Father in the Spirit can be resisted and refused. However, the consequence of such a rejection is dire, “the sword shall consume you”. Indeed, our free will is most startling and disturbing. The LORD our God has made his decision and revealed it to us. Now it’s up to us. Now, we can refuse and resist, or we can cooperate and celebrate.
Preaching but not practicing has always been a problem for religious leaders, those in Judaism and in Christianity. Those who have the training and talent to teach and preach to others may not have the integrity to live and model the truth they proclaim. The Lord Jesus uses his contemporaries, the scribes and Pharisees, to make this point. Their problem seems to be that having people notice and honor them in public is the more important than the truth they claim to witness. This need for recognition and approval is a great burden on their shoulders so it’s impossible for them to notice that other people may need help with growing in humility. These leaders demand certain protocol when they encounter others. They like to be called Rabbi, Master, or Father. Indeed, they refuse to respond to anyone who does not address them properly. The Lord Jesus teaches what his contemporaries need to learn, and this is precisely what we still need to learn. Simply put, true greatness comes from being a faithful servant. Indeed, true greatness comes from being faithful like the Lord Jesus was faithful. He emptied himself of glory so that he could reveal the Father’s glory. It is in the Holy Spirit that we too can empty ourselves of our preoccupation with self and humble ourselves so that we may be exalted by the Lord.