Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent
Isaiah 1:10, 16-20 and Matthew 23:1-12
This may be the wrong venue for me to admit this, but I must say -- I don’t like Lent. (Advent? Now that’s a different story!) Lent lasts a long time in Minnesota. It drags on through so many icy 25-degree days. The truth is that I’d rather eat than fast, daydream than pray, and keep my money in my wallet than give it away. But it is more than that. Lent asks me to do things I would rather not do --- like, look at my conscience, reflect on my actions, and examine my attitudes. Lent “invites” me to look at the real me. Lent makes me uncomfortable. Did I mention that I don’t like Lent? To make things worse, while I try to do these things, Lent tells me, directly and boldly, that I am not the point of all of this. Lent tells me that Lent is not about me!
In his Lenten Message, Pope Francis stresses, “prayerful listening to God’s word, especially his prophetic word.” Today we listen to Isaiah telling us two things: something about ourselves and something about our God. He tells us to “wash ourselves clean” by ceasing evil and doing good, which he defines as, “Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.” Our spiritual lesson for the day is this: Purifying myself is not about me. It is about, to cite Francis again, mercy. Isaiah’s second message is prior to his first. God shows mercy to us, indeed, “the name of God is mercy.” Thus the logic of Francis: The more we are aware of our sins, the more we are aware of God’s mercy -- the more we can meet the wounded on our way with mercy. In today’s Gospel, Jesus offers another take on, “It’s not about me.” The Pharisees in the reading think they are the greatest; they act like they are the greatest; they expect others to treat them like they are the greatest. Jesus, sounding illogical, says firmly, “The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
If I only had to fast a little, pray a bit more, give a few extra dollars to the poor, Lent would be easy. I might even like it.
Professor and Chair
Department of Theology