Washing Ourselves from Sin and Hypocrisy by the Blood of the Lamb, Second Tuesday of Lent, March 18, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Our Lady of Wisdom Parish, Lafayette, LA
Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent
Commemoration of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Doctor of the Church
March 18, 2014
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:

  • Today in the readings from Sacred Scripture, the Lord is intensifying the call to conversion he is giving us this Lent.
  • In the first reading, the Lord through Isaiah issues a call to repentance to the people and leaders of Sodom and Gomorrah, two towns infamous for wickedness. The Lord wants to give them forgiveness, but for that to occur they first have to recognize their need for that mercy. “Wash yourselves clean!,” Isaiah cries out to them to love rather than abuse or ignore their neighbor. “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.” Then he gives them a message of incredible hope if they act on those words. “Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool.” No matter how abominable their previous sins — and Sodom and Gomorrah are the two most notoriously iniquitous cities of all time — God will turn their scarlet to white. He won’t just cover their sins with snow, hiding their wickedness under the appearance of purity. He will actually change their sins from scarlet crimson to white. He will transform their abominations, bringing good out of them, wiping their souls clean. The detergent that will eventually carry out this cleaning, if they heed his call to conversion, is Christ’s own salvific love. Their sullied robes, the Book of Revelation tells us, will be washed clean and made white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev 7:14). God gave his own life to wash us clean.
  • 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 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 don’t lift a finger in charity and seek to help people who are struggling to align their lives to the Gospel is because they do everything to be seen by others. As religious prima donnas, they widen the phylacteries that would contain verses of sacred scripture in their locks of hear, 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 are the types who, Jesus told us on Ash Wednesday, who 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 is not true love of God but rather self-love under the mask of devotion. They sit on Moses’ seat but don’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. The ultimate conversion Jesus is seeking in us this Lent is for us to become like him through acting in accordance with the truth he gives us that will set us free and bring us joy. He tells us at the end of the passage today, “The greatest among you must be your servant, for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” 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.
  • The saints are the ones who have grasped and lived this message. Today we celebrate one of the great saints of the fourth century, Cyril of Jerusalem, who sought to help the early Christians make this passage from hypocrisy to fidelity, from crimson to white, from death to life, guiding converts through his famous Catecheses to the waters of baptism where they received the full cleansing power of the blood of Christ and then to help them persevere in that new life, keeping their garments unstained by a holy life and learning how to follow their one Father, Master and Teacher/Guide. The great gift this Doctor of the Church said we have each day to do this is the Holy Eucharist by which we are able to receive the full cleansing power of Jesus’ body and blood and the life of God within us. In an age in which he needed to confront regularly those who doubted Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist — a truth, let’s be honest,  that in every age will almost seem too good to be true — Cyril said, “Since Jesus himself has declared and said of the bread, ‘This is my Body,’ who shall dare to doubt any more? And when he asserts and says, ‘This is my Blood,’ who shall ever hesitate and say it is not his Blood? … Do not think it mere bread and wine for it is the Body and Blood of Christ, according to the Lord’s declaration.” So he concludes, “Strengthen your heart, partaking of it as spiritual food and rejoice the face of your soul!”
  • Today as we come forward to receive Jesus today under the appearances of bread and wine, we ask him, through the intercession of St. Cyril of Jersualem, indeed to strengthen our hearts for the Lenten conversion the he is asking of us. We ask him to help our souls to rejoice in the gift of his mercy. We ask him to become great by humbly serving the rest. We ask him to wash us thoroughly clean and keep us pure so that one day we may rejoice with St. Cyril to be numbered among all those dressed in garments made white in the Blood of the Lamb and worshipping before God’s throne day and night.

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.

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.”