Tuesday of Week 2 of Lent – First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 1:10,16-20

Today’s reading is an attack on hypocrisy and a call for humility in the presence of God and in the presence of our brothers and sisters. The passage is from the very beginning of Isaiah and is primarily an attack on the people’s hypocrisy – the same theme as in today’s Gospel.

There are strong words from Isaiah on his people and their rulers. He calls the leaders of God’s people “rulers of Sodom” and speaks of the people as “people of Gomorrah”. Sodom and Gomorrah were the epitome of all that was most evil and repellent to God. They are classic examples of sinful cities completely destroyed (see Gen 13:13; 18:20-21). And just as Jesus addressed Peter as Satan for blocking God’s plans, so Isaiah addresses his countrymen as deserving no better than the corrupt citizens of those wicked cities.

In verses which are omitted, God, speaking through his prophet, denounces the endless round of burnt offerings and sacrificial animals.

Bringing offerings is futile;
incense is an abomination to me…
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen.
(Is 1:13,15)

Why? Because “your hands are full of blood”. There is no relationship between the endless prayers piously offered and behaviour which is totally unacceptable to God.

But God’s desire is not to condemn, but to call his people to genuine repentance.

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean…

And how are they to do this? By offering still more sacrifices? By going to Confession? By saying a perfunctory Act of Contrition? No, they are to repent and “seek justice”. They are to redress the wrongs done to others, to “defend the orphan; plead for the widow”. In the Jewish society of the time, these were the weakest and most neglected of people. There could be no real repentance unless care was taken of the weakest and neediest in society. For us, in Lent, the message is exactly the same.

And there is hope:

If your sins are like scarlet,
will they become like snow?


If you are willing and obedient,
you shall eat the good of the land…

For those who truly repent (Greek, metanoia) – and this is shown by a radical change in their behaviour and in the way they act towards the weak and neglected – total rehabilitation is possible. That is what we hope will be our experience, too, this Lent.

The choice is ours, either to submit ourselves to the compassionate way of God and find life, or go our own rebellious, self-centred way and find death.

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