Mumbai Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR) | Daily scripture reflection 2nd March 2021

Daily scripture reflection 2nd March 2021

2nd March, 2021
Initiative of the Ministry of the Word group Is.1:10,16-20; Ps.50; Mt.23:1-12
2nd March 2021, Tuesday
Of the Second Week in Lent
Is.1:10,16-20; Ps.50; Mt.23:1-12

The theme of today’s readings is the denouncement of hypocrisy and a call to humility in the presence of God, and in the presence of our brothers and sisters.  

In the First Reading from Isaiah, God, through His prophet, calls out the hypocrisy of the people.  They are strong words from Isaiah, who calls the leaders of God’s people “princes of Sodom”, and speaks of the people as “people of Gomorrah”.  Sodom & Gomorrah are biblical icons of sin cities and of God’s judgment as such (cf. Gen.20:24-25). Isaiah rebukes his countrymen as deserving no better than the corrupt citizens of those wicked cities.

In the verses which follow, but are omitted in today’s reading, God denounces the endless rounds of burnt offerings & sacrificial animals: “Bring me no more futile cereal offerings, the smoke from them fills me with disgust”.  Instead, “Wash yourselves clean!  Put away your misdeeds … cease doing evil; learn to do good … redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow”.  These are acts worthy of God’s pleasure.

God then calls on them to “set things right” - with a threat and a promise.  “Though your sins be like scarlet, they will become white as snow… if you are willing and obey, you shall eat the good things of the land.  But if you refuse and resist, the sword shall consume you”.  

It is clear that the daily temple sacrifices no longer appeased God, who wished his people to live by his commandments, wherein individuals would prosper when the community, and consequently the nation prospered – it is the first "socialist" ideology.  The psalm that follows reiterates this “To the upright, I will show the saving power of God”.  

Psalm 50 is a covenant lawsuit.  It begins with a theophany and the summoning of the court, followed by God’s direct address explaining what is required of his faithful.  As in the First Reading, He confronts the hypocrisy of the people, and concludes with a threat and a promise “When you do these things, shall I be deaf to it? Or do you think that I am like yourself?”… He that offers praise as a sacrifice ….  and to him that goes the right way I will show the salvation of God”.

The Gospel carries on with the theme of denouncing hypocrisy and upholding genuine worship.  Outwardly, it seems like Jesus is attacking the Pharisees, but it is really the evangelist who is directing the words to the members of his early Christian community – especially its leaders.  Jesus levels two criticisms against the Pharisees - they do not practice what they preach; they do what they do to attract the admiration of others. 

Jesus’ words are a warning to all people in authority – the Pharisees could be any leader in today’s world – Executives, doctors, lawyers, priests, civil servants, even parents, all can be included here.  Leaders often talk and expect people to do what they say, yet they themselves act otherwise.

The Pharisees tried to impress the common man by wearing wider phylacteries and longer tassels – both symbols of authority prescribed by the Law.  Phylacteries were little boxes containing verses of scripture, worn on the left forearm and the forehead.  Tassels, worn on the corners of one’s garment, were prescribed by the Mosaic Law, as a reminder to keep the commandments.  By exaggerating these items in their wear, the Pharisees draw attention to their own superiority, piety and observance. And so “listen to what they tell youand do not be guided by what they do” is a recurring motif in Matthew.

Jesus reminds them that by “lifting up” themselves they might earn the admiration of their fellowmen, but to God, this is meaningless: “Anyone who lifts himself up will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be lifted up”.  In his life and death, Jesus himself exemplifies this: “though in the form of God (he) emptied himself …. Walked the path of obedience all the way to death …. For this reason, God raised him to the highest place”. (Phil.2:7-9)

The readings today are a reminder for us to evaluate our own sense of holiness.  Holiness is not determined by clothes or by observances; it is determined by the interiorizing of God’s commandments of loving your neighbor, and the acts that stem from it.  This Lent, meditate on Jesus’ words – does your holiness stem from the word of God?