Your brand of religion makes me sick – Tuesday, 2nd Week in Lent – Isaiah 1:10,16-20/Matthew 23:1-12

The text of today’s first reading seems like another Lenten appeal to transform our lives. It seems like a loving God who wants to “talk this over” with us, offering us an exchange of our sins as red as scarlet for a robe of righteousness bleached white as wool. And yes, there seems to be some rather tame ‘threat’ of death should you not take this amnesty scheme.

But read the whole of this chapter and you can see that God, through his prophet Isaiah throws political correctness into the dustbin and sails right through the people of Israel. He not only called a spade a spade but he even dug a pit to push a few into it. Isaiah reflects God’s wrath with a people who were mollycoddled for way too long and had learnt nothing; not even the fall of the northern kingdom had any effect on them. (Read verse 7)

In some sense, the text of today does a great injustice to the wrath that God expresses. This is not a God who decides to lather and shave. In Isaiah chapter one, God stands with a blade to the throat, ready to slit it. This is not a God who has got up from the wrong side of his bed, this is a God who seems fed up of stiffed neck people. To Israel he says, “the ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib,” yet ironically Israel does not know its God. In a way, God was telling Israel, that even a donkey and an ox are better than they are.

But that is not all. God calls them out for who they are, “a sinful nation laden with iniquity,” and “children who do evil. (verse4) “They seemed to have not learnt their lesson and so God rhetorically asks them if they want another round of beating. (Verse 5). To God, they were sick in the head. (verse 6)

It is not that Jerusalem had not seen the consequences of God’s wrath on Sodom and Gomorrah. It is not that they did not know how God had rejected their sacrifices and called them worthless. God rejected their offerings when he said, “Who asked for this (these sacrifices) from your hands?” (verse12) Then God said the unthinkable, “Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates, they have become a burden. Read the Hebrew text and it makes you recoil for God says your sacrifices make me nauseous. Your brand of religion makes me sick.

Israel had to learn and learn quickly. We know that sadly they did not. But God did try. He appeals to them in today’s text, “cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Israel was steeped in sin, a sin that God colour codes as red. They lived in the danger zone and so he makes one last appeal.

There is an amnesty offered only “IF they were willing and obedient.” (Verse 19) Sadly, this is a narrative that did not end well. This was not a Zacchaeus or a Matthew transformation. Israel did a Caiaphas and dug their heels deeper into sin and God destroyed them.

Read this text how you may, it does not change the reality of God’s patience. “Oh, that today you may listen to his voice, harden not your hearts.” (Psalm 95:7)

Spread the love ♥
Continue Reading