Thursday, March 09, 2017

Friday of the First Week of Lent

“Prayer of the Penitent Monks” 
by Alessandro Magnasco, 1714-15
Reading I: Ezekiel 18:21-28
Commentary on Ez 18:21-28
The Prophet Ezekiel expounds upon the concept of individual responsibility (see also 2 Kings 14:6Jeremiah 31:29ff, and Deuteronomy 24:16). He begins this passage by saying that if an evil person turns away from their sins they will receive redemption. Speaking for God, he says that the Lord does not enjoy punishing those who disobey, rather he rejoices when repentance leads to redemption. The reading continues saying that if a virtuous person falls into sin and turns from the righteous path, that person will die because of their sin. It has been postulated that this may have been part of a liturgical rite that was an act of contrition prior to entering the temple in that it brings into consideration the code of the Law and the Code of Holiness.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-7a, 7bc-8
R. (3) If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, who can stand?
Psalm 130 is a song of lament. The psalmist cries out to God to hear the voice of the one who calls and to forgive the sins they have committed. The third verse, which is also the refrain, sums up the lament saying if there is not forgiveness all will fall because all have sinned.
CCC: Ps 130:3 370
Gospel: Matthew 5:20-26
Commentary on Mt 5:20-26
This passage is the first of six examples in St. Matthew’s Gospel of conduct demanded of the Christian disciple. The first three, including this one, take a commandment of Mosaic Law and deepen the meaning. Here the Lord takes the commandment: “You shall not kill” (quoted from Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17) to a new level. He traces the logic from thought, to vulgar or abusive words, to violent action. In this translation the Greek word "Raqa" is used to indicate deep insult. Where the Jewish Law forbids the action, Christian law forbids the antecedents as well. The passage continues with the remedy for this action, and a foundation for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He instructs us to be reconciled with a person with whom we have bad feelings before coming to the altar. The consequences of failing to do so, he warns, are judgment and punishment.
CCC: Mt 5:20 2054; Mt 5:21-22 2054, 2257; Mt 5:21 2262, 2302; Mt 5:22-39 2262; Mt 5:22 678, 1034, 2302; Mt 5:23-24 2608, 2792, 2841,2845; Mt 5:24 1424
As we listen to Sacred Scripture, we can easily recall Ash Wednesday and the beginning of this Lenten season. We remember the words used when the ashes were applied: “Turn away from sin [Repent] and believe in the Gospel!” Those words are repeated by Ezekiel and amplified by Christ in Matthew’s Gospel.
The words of repentance have, from the very earliest times, resulted in forgiveness. It is one of God’s great gifts to us. He forgives. After love, forgiveness (which is a characteristic or element of love if we really think about it) is the most obvious characteristic of the Father [who is love].
God’s forgiveness is not like our forgiveness. When we forgive someone for a wrong, let’s say a salesman at a store purposely overcharged us, and we discover the mistake and confront him. He says, “I’m sorry.” And we forgive him, right? But we probably don’t like him and will probably never do business with him again. In fact, we may never trade with the firm where he works again. God, on the other hand, forgives like a loving parent. He not only forgives the deed, but accepts the flaw in us that allowed us to commit such an act, no matter how heinous. We hear the understanding predicted by the Prophet Ezekiel:
If the wicked man turns away from all the sins he committed,
if he keeps all my statutes and does what is right and just,
he shall surely live, he shall not die.
None of the crimes he committed shall be remembered against him;
he shall live because of the virtue he has practiced.
We hear the forgiveness. We also hear that the key to forgiveness on our part is repentance (“If the wicked man turns away from all the sins he committed…”). What Ezekiel tells us is that if we sin (we define sin as a conscious failure to love), and knowingly continue, unrepentant (this means we will probably repeat the act), we are not in a state of grace or forgiveness. We have not turned away from our sin, but away from God.
Jesus tells us in the Gospel that it goes even further. If we sin in our thoughts, we have committed that sin in the eyes of God. This statement binds us to vigilance and prohibits us from the hypocritical path of the Pharisees who, because of their rigid adherence to the letter of Rabbinic Law, felt they were somehow better than those who were not so outwardly scrupulous. We are called to a higher standard (some might say an impossible standard) of spirituality. Our thoughts and actions must coincide. What is seen must be genuine.
The call to repentance and the pledge of God’s forgiveness for true contrition are the connected messages we take with us today. As always, the doing is much more difficult than the saying. We pray today that we may come to true contrition through our repentance, and by doing so, come into the peace of Christ.

[1] The picture is “Prayer of the Penitent Monks” by Alessandro Magnasco, 1714-15

No comments: