The first reading for today’s liturgy comes from the very first chapter of the Prophet Isaiah. In a way, I wish that it included some of the material that comes from the very first verses, especially verse three in which God says: “An ox knows its owner, and an ass, its master’s manger; but Israel does not know, my people has not understood.” The children of Israel have not understood that they were God’s people. They did not act in a way that was befitting a people so wondrously cared for and loved.
The verses that we do read today are very pointed reminders of the conditions that had been built into the Sinai covenant; particularly the conditions that dictated that the children of Israel were to make justice their aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, and defend the widow. While they were guilty of other sins, God is particularly concerned with their sins of omission. Their lack of care for the poor and the lowly is far more grievous because it means that they have forgotten when they were the victims of such injustice. God had rescued them from the slavery of Egypt and had set them apart as a people peculiarly his own. However, rather than serve the needs of the poor they had grown haughty and had expected others to serve them. God upbraids them for their lack of humility, for forgetting who they were before God had intervened upon their behalf.
Today’s Gospel reading pick up on this theme as Jesus delivers a scathing review of the conduct of the Pharisees. They have forgotten that the Law of Sinai expected them to be servant-leaders of their people rather than haughty men who sought honoraria and titles of respect. Greatness is found in servanthood. Respect is granted by God upon those who place a premium on providing for those who are poor. The expected theology of reciprocity is turned upside down by the Gospel theme of the reversal of fortunes.
These readings serve to remind us that all the Lenten sacrifices and mortifications pale in light of such sins of omission. God’s Law is the Law of Love for all men and women, for all our brothers and sisters.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator