Hit the reboot button – Tuesday, 2nd week of Lent – Isaiah 1:10,16-20/Matthew 23:1-12
God’s love is often assumed to be unconditional; in reality it is not. Primarily, we share a relationship with God and while all relationships come with expectations, God’s love is no exception. However, God’s love does not make unreasonable demands such that one who shares in this relationship would not be able to fulfil. In fact, if you look at it, God sets the bar really low when it comes to our commitment. Yet to believe that God loves us unconditionally is foolish and unreasonable and if I dare say is rather unhealthy for any relationship. Yet we can also testify to his forgiveness each time we err.
The reading from Isaiah, which is taken from the first chapter, seems to have two groups of people whom God is addressing; Judah and Jerusalem on one hand and Sodom and Gomorrah on the other. In reality. Sodom and Gomorrah were long destroyed by God in the book of Genesis, chapter 19. Yet the people of Israel took some pride in believing that they were some sort of righteous remanent of a sinful nation whom God saved. They lived in the delusion that their burnt offerings of bulls and the blood of lambs and goats delighted God. He on the other hand was disgusted by it and in verse 14 he says, “your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates.” Read this in Hebrew and the word ‘hate’ translates as nausea; such was the disgust of God for the ‘sacrifices’ of his people.
Lent is a time when we too make sacrifices; we may not offer sacrifices but we make a sacrifice. Yet it is not what we do in Lent but who we become that matters to God. The sacrifices of the people of Israel had become to God a “burden,” one that he was “weary of bearing.” (Isaiah 1:15) God clearly says to his people, “when you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you. Even though you make many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood.”
It is for this reason that the text of today begins with an exhortation to all of us to “wash ourselves clean.” Covid taught us to wash our hands and scrub it clean. That’s how God wants us to approach lent. This is not a time to clean soiled souls with a wet towel but rather to drench ourselves in the mercy of God. God does not request but demands that our being is good not just our doing. He demands in the reading of today, that we cease to do evil and learn to do good.
We were made in the image and likeness of God but tarnished by original sin. It is for this reason that goodness does not come to us; goodness must be a learnt behaviour. God says to us, “learn to do good.” The evil one has so poisoned us that we are prone to doing evil faster than we even think of doing good. Lent is a time to hit the reboot button to become what God intended us to be.
I began by saying that God’s love is not unconditional but his forgiveness is offered ever so readily. That is seen in today’s reading once again. “Come” he says “let us discuss and argue it out,” you and me. “Though your sins are like scarlet they shall be like snow. Though they are red like crimson they shall become like wool….. IF you are willing, IF you are obedient. (Is 1:18-19)