What’s the point of pointing? Saturday after Ash Wednesday – Isaiah 58:9-14/ Luke 5:27-32
There is an anecdote narrated about Pope Saint John the XXIII. On a visit to the prison in Rome to meet with prisoners, he broke the ice with these words, “the only difference between you and me is that you got caught.” There is deep humility in what the Holy Father did and spoke. He acknowledged that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. As the vicar of Christ, he could have lectured them long on hard on their moral life, yet he chose not to point a finger of blame but to love and encourage. See the video on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=frybSA34XvA
The text of today taken from Isaiah 58 is a call to the people of Israel to mend their ways and the hypocrisy of faith. Clearly their fasts were worthless (58:3) for God did not look upon them with a blessing. What God desired what a change of heart not another empty gesture of faith.
We live in the belief that God loves us unconditionally; that certainly does not mean that God makes no demands on our spiritual life. God loves the sinner but abhors the sin and it the sin that he wants us to address in the season of Lent. In the reading from Isaiah, God clearly places the demands for an ethical life over religious practice. Five times in this chapter he begins with the word “if” and twice he concludes those conditions with the word, “then.”
One such condition demands that we stop finger pointing and stop speaking evil of others; a trait that had not changed from Isaiah to Jesus. In the Gospel of today the Pharisees and their scribes have their fingers pointed at Jesus; his fault is that he chose a tax collector, Levi by name, to be a follower and then he ate at Levi’s house with a ‘large crowd of tax collectors.’ (Luke 5:27-29). The tone of the Pharisees is largely one of finger-jabbing, a finger full of anger, fear, and pride. It made the Pharisees and their adherents feel very righteous yet they had failed to read the scriptures, to read Isaiah 58, scriptures they claimed they had mastered.
Jesus often confronted this sin of finger pointing. In Luke’s Gospel he says, “Why do you point out the splinter in your neighbour’s eye, and ignore the plank in your own? (Lk 6:39-45); and again, in John’s Gospel he said, “Let whoever is without sin cast the first stone” (Jn 8:1-11) Blaming others, recognizing someone else’s mistakes always seems easier than admitting our own. We often forget that when I have one finger pointing at someone else, I have three more pointing back at me.
When a youngster who had been caught stealing from a farmer’s field was brought before him, the judge said, “Son, what do you have to say for yourself?” The kid looked at the official repentantly and then asked plaintively, “Judge, didn’t you ever steal a watermelon when you were a kid?” Startled by this question the judge blushed. After a long pause, he said, “though the boy has done wrong, I have decided under the circumstances to dismiss the case.” He was embarrassed because he realized that he was as guilty as the defendant
The season of Lent invites us to point a finger but not at others, rather we point a finger inward, examining our own hearts critically. We need to be aware of our failures to love others as Christ would have us love them. But if our reflections stop at the finger pointing, there being no change in our ways, then we completely miss the intention of Lent.
All have sinned and God knows who we are and what we have done. But God forgives us and loves us anyway. This Lent we do have something better to do than to stand around and point fingers. We can do what Jesus did. We can forgive and give.