ISAIAH 1:10, 16-20; Matthew 23:1-12

This gospel from Matthew and the passage from Isaiah in the first reading today both speak in terms of change and choice.   There is a tone of urgency in each passage so that both suggest they were written with present awareness that life involves struggle.   The words from the prophet are in the final chapter of Second Isaiah, writing near the end of Israel's exile.   During the prolonged captivity the Jewish people were under pressure of various kinds to fit in by adapting to the dominant pagan society they were forced to live in.   Many succumbed over the years to the social influences of daily encounters.   Isaiah addresses them as "princes of Sodom", and "people of Gomorrah.  " Yet they are not to lose hope or to put aside their true heritage.   The basis of their confidence he declares at the beginning of this call to his people: "Hear the word of the Lord.  " He does not speak with uncertain accents in his own name: it is God who speaks in this call to repentance and it is God who gives us reassurance as he adds: "If your sins be as scarlet, they may become white as snow".   To hear this word is to take it into our heart and live by it, with trusting submission, confident that God will sustain us.   Implied in this urgent call to turn to the God whom the sinner offended is a deep trust that He is mercifully disposed to forgive and forget the past.   Isaiah manages to convey just that kind of confidence as he adds that, however serious the offences so as to discolor the soul, their effect will be wholly removed, and a freshness of new life cause the repentant soul to become pure as snow.   So that the message of this text not only give fresh hope to us who know we are sinners, but also, at a deeper level, assure us that God is lovingly disposed toward us.   He desires that we live for Him and for his kingdom.   This message occurs in the final chapter of the second Isaiah' writings and represents the encouraging tone of his preaching.   He inculcates an attitude of hopeful trust based on the conviction that God actively loves those He calls to Himself by obedient faith.

The Gospel from Saint Matthew re-enforces this truth by stressing that Christ is our Master We are to follow his manner of dealing with others with concern and with honesty.   The basis for maintaining this good will toward others is the fact, Jesus reminds us, that we "have but one Father in heaven.  " As a result we are to be disposed to all as to brothers, having the same God and same destiny.   As world events these days so dramatically and murderously demonstrate so clearly.   This teaching has to be applied with human prudence and practical wisdom.   Pope Francis recently declared the war against ISIS and its slaughter of innocent women and children as well as peaceful Christian men is justified.

In today's readings, then, we are reminded that, though God is just and inculcates justice, yet He is truly and deeply, loving and merciful.   He extends his mercy to each of us here at this liturgy giving us reason to trust His words and His love by inviting us to receive His beloved Son who comes to us with loving mercy in this Sacrament.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger