Scripture: Lectionary 232, Tue. March 6,2012. Isaiah 1:10.16-20. Psalm 50: 8-9.16-17.21.23. Matthew 23:1-12
One of my teachers, Brother Robert Holzmer, S.M., taught me Gregorian chant and also peppered it with some interesting sayings. I always recall this one: “Words are our masters.” I use it often when I am teaching. How true that adage is for the prophet Isaiah (my favorite prophet). God’s words are effective like the rain coming down and fructifying the earth. God’s words can also cleanse us even thought our sins may be scarlet; they are purified into Transfiguration white.
Isaiah says, ”Though my sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow…though they be crimson red they may become white as wool.” A rabbinic understanding of this verse with its context is as “10 exhortations to repentance.” A.Penna comments: “The two comparisons (like scarlet…crimson) are to be connected with hands red with blood. If repentance is sincere (cf. Joel 2:13; Luke 15:7) even the most serious sins will disappear and will be forgiven by God.” (New Catholic Commentary on Scripture, p. 572).
The Psalmist prays with confidence that God’s word will encourage us to repent once our prayers are sincere.
In the Gospel we learn that the words of religious leaders are not like God’s words. They do not do what they teach from time to time and have no power to heal or forgive. Jesus tells us to learn from them but not to be inactive in putting into practice what we preach or teach. We are not to imitate their behavior. “Their words are bold but their deeds are few.” We are to do everything that is God’s words which they mouth. Therefore we are not to follow their example. The action of doing justice and working for peace are most important. Jewish teaching puts a lot on the mitzvoth, that is, making sure we do something about what we have learned from the Torah or from Jesus.
Again and again the Scriptures during Lent challenge us to be people of integrity. Our inmost heart must be purified so that our words are true and honest. Today we are summoned to keep our speech under control (see James 1:26, 3:5-8). We are to be kind an patient and make sure we check our tongue to speak the truth without abrasiveness and above all not to talk about someone behind their back. Amen.