Scarlet Sins Becoming White as Snow, 2nd Tuesday of Lent, March 14, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent
March 14, 2017
Is 1:10.16-20, Ps 50, Mt 23:1-12

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • On Ash Wednesday each year, Jesus gives us the program for Lent and life when he announces “Repent and Believe,” and “Turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel.” There are two moments that he describes: the first state of conversion is averting from everything unfit from God — from a bad life, from sin, from evil. The second stage is adverting, turning toward God, and converting, turning with God, through putting our faith into practices. In today’s readings we see both portrayed very clearly.
  • At the beginning of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, God through his emissary calls the Jews “Sodom” and “Gomorrah” to highlight the severity of their sins, because those were the most notoriously iniquitous cities of all time. Throughout Isaiah we see what those sins were. God speaks of their “misdeeds,” their “doing evil,” their “scarlet” and “crimson red” sins. “Wash yourselves clean!,” Isaiah cries out. In the Responsorial Psalm, God points out the hypocrisy of his people, saying, “Why do you recite my statutes and profess my covenant with your mouth” as “you hate discipline and cast my words behind you?” In the Gospel, Jesus begins a searing 35 verse call to repentance not only for the Scribes and Pharisees but for all of us who, like them — and in contrast to the sinners of Sodom and Gomorrah who previously gloried in their debaucheries — can be tempted to appear white on the outside while our souls remain scarlet on the inside. That hypocrisy, that acting, was the principal vice of the Scribes and the Pharisees and often can remain the downfall for those who behave in a religious way but whose hearts are far from the Lord. Jesus says of them that they do not practice what they preach. They — and perhaps we can see a personal resemblance in these upcoming characteristics — tie up heavy religious burdens on others without lifting a finger to help them, whereas the truth, although at time challenging, is meant always to set us free. The reason why they didn’t lift a finger in charity and seek to help people who were struggling to align their lives to the Gospel was because they were doing everything to be seen by others. As religious prima donnas, they widened the phylacteries that would contain verses of sacred scripture in their locks of hair, lengthen the tassels that were to remind them of revelation, and prefer to be acknowledged by everyone for their religious devotion in banquets, synagogues and marketplaces. They were the types who, Jesus told us on Ash Wednesday, pray, fast and give alms not out of love for God and others but to be rewarded by others’ praise and esteem, the exact opposite of the type of motivation God wants: their motivation was not true love of God but rather self-love under the mask of devotion. They sat on Moses’ seat but didn’t share Moses’ own humility before God (Ex 4:10,13). Their knowledge of the law, rather than moving them to conform their lives ever more to God’s revelation, became in essence an obstacle, because it made them proud not humble. They manipulated their knowledge of the law to seek to grow in others’ eyes. They sought the titles of “rabbi” — which literally means “great one,” but is normally translated “teacher” — and “father” and “master,” but in seeking these titles they were seeking to take the place not only of Moses but of God: God is our Father; Jesus is our one Master; the Holy Spirit is our teacher and guide.
  • That leads us to the second stage of conversion. It’s not merely fighting against and eliminating sin. It’s positively and passionately doing good. It’s loving God and loving others as God loves others, with all we have and are.  Isaiah says we should be ambitious to “make justice your aim!,” and “learn to do good.” He gives us hope that even if our sins be crimson and scarlet they can become white as snow; in other words they can be transformed from evil into good, by giving us the added motivation to make up for lost time, to recognize what a great and merciful God we have and imitate his loving generosity to those who need our help as much as we need God’s mercy. This is a particularly relevant thought for us today here in New York during a big snow storm. The Lord wants to rain down his mercy like a blizzard, and not just cover us with white snow — like Martin Luther thought of grace as snow covering dung — but to bring about a transformation in the dung into the purity of snow. He wants to change us from the inside out. In the Gospel, Jesus summarizes our cooperation with God’s holy desire by saying, “The greatest among you must be your servant.” Jesus, the greatest ever, humbled himself to take on our nature, to become our slave, to wash our feet and our hands, head and souls as well, and calls us to follow him along that path of humility and service. For him, and for those who truly follow him, to reign is to serve, not to be served. He wants us to share his ambition that we be truly great not necessarily in the eyes of others but in the eyes of his Father and in the Father’s kingdom. He teaches us by his words and by his own life that the way up in greatness is the way down in humility. That’s the second stage of conversion.
  • And there’s a particular focus of the language we can’t miss. Jesus wants us to have the holy ambition to become great among each other by our serving each other. The “greatest among you,” he says, which means we become great among each other, by washing each other’s feet, by ministering to each other. There’s a temptation always to think that the call to become the servant of the rest means to think about people on the outside, but it always begins with greatness in the home and family, greatness among roommates, greatness among the sisters in a convent. Whom would Jesus say would be the greatest among you? Whom would he say would be the greatest servant? Would that he be able to say about each of you that you serve each other as an example that he could point to follow, that you would be someone who truly believes in the Gospel, that you practice what the Church preaches and that others should observe everything you say and do. That’s what he ultimately wants to do with each of his followers. He’s given us an example so that we might follow, and wants us to become similar examples.
  • To help us, he now gives us himself, showing us the saving power of God. He humbles himself fully to exalt us in humility, so that together with the great one, son of the Father and teacher on the inside, we might learn to do good, aim at justice, hear the plea of the orphan, defend the widow and serve all.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 IS 1:10, 16-20

Hear the word of the LORD,
princes of Sodom!
Listen to the instruction of our God,
people of Gomorrah!Wash yourselves clean!
Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes;
cease doing evil; learn to do good.
Make justice your aim: redress the wronged,
hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.
Come now, let us set things right,
says the LORD:
Though your sins be like scarlet,
they may become white as snow;
Though they be crimson red,
they may become white as wool.
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:
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken!

Responsorial Psalm PS 50:8-9, 16BC-17, 21 AND 23

R. (23b) To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
“Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you,
for your burnt offerings are before me always.
I take from your house no bullock,
no goats out of your fold.”
R. To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
“Why do you recite my statutes,
and profess my covenant with your mouth,
Though you hate discipline
and cast my words behind you?”
R. To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
“When you do these things, shall I be deaf to it?
Or do you think that I am like yourself?
I will correct you by drawing them up before your eyes.
He that offers praise as a sacrifice glorifies me;
and to him that goes the right way I will show the salvation of God.”
R. To the upright I will show the saving power of God.

Verse Before The Gospel EZ 18:31

Cast away from you all the crimes you have committed, says the LORD,
and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.

Gospel MT 23:1-12

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying,
“The scribes and the Pharisees
have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.
Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you,
but do not follow their example.
For they preach but they do not practice.
They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.
All their works are performed to be seen.
They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.
They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,
greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’
As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’
You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.
Call no one on earth your father;
you have but one Father in heaven.
Do not be called ‘Master’;
you have but one master, the Christ.
The greatest among you must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”