HOMILY WEEK 02 02 – Year I
(Is 1:10-31; Ps 50; Mt 23:1-12)
Brother Tom Novak OMI of Winnipeg, makes social justice a main thrust of his ministry and was involved with a drama group called Just Theatre. They centred all their performances on an issue of justice.
Today’s readings, using a little imagination, are like a play with three main themes: repentance, humility and justice. The three main characters in this play are Isaiah, the Psalmist and Jesus.
The message this play imparts is that repentance and forgiveness can never be separated from humility and are completed by justice. Put simply, we are to repent, be humble and just.
As the curtain opens, Isaiah comes on stage first to share a vision about the Word of God. He poetically pleads for us to repent, to let go of sin, to seek justice and to do good to the poor and oppressed. Isaiah assures us that although our sins are like scarlet, they shall become white as snow. If we are willing and obedient, then we can receive God’s forgiveness, and we shall live. He even goes so far as to say that we will be redeemed by justice and that those who repent will be redeemed by righteousness – a very bold statement indeed.
The Psalmist then makes his or her entrance to music and singing, and adds to the message of Isaiah – God’s saving power will be shown to the upright, to the just. He upbraids those who think piety and sacrifices will make them holy, instead of just deeds, gratitude and going the right way. These latter will see the salvation of God. One could suspect that James wrote the script, because of his stark claim that faith without works is dead.
Then Jesus steps on stage to chastise the scribes and Pharisees for their false pride, their showy piety and burdensome religiosity they hide behind instead of caring for others and acting justly. One could say they are addicted to religion, worshipping not God, but their own self-made religious laws and practices they could actually use to excuse themselves from the messy work of caring for the orphans, widows and aliens. In that sense, they are like the priest and Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan who excused themselves, for religious purposes, from caring for the injured man by the side of the road.
Then, in the last line of the play, Jesus slips in a very important teaching to counter all that prideful religiosity of the scribes and Pharisees – be humble, for those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who are humble will be exalted.
This play should have a sequel. This sequel would feature Jesus alone on the stage giving us a monologue – reciting Matthew 25 from memory, to emphasize the gravity of the message of the readings – that what counts for Jesus and for the Kingdom of God is not showy piety or self-centred religiosity, but caring for others, especially the orphans, widows and aliens, through works of justice.
Matthew 25 is pure, just theatre: those who will inherit the kingdom are those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited the prisoners. It is very striking that what we so often seem to focus on in church life today (rubrics, protocol, worship, morality, devotions) important as they are, are not even mentioned as the criteria for entering the kingdom of God.
This should give us pause to reflect on our lives – are we perhaps missing the mark? Are we living Matthew 25, or conveniently not taking its message seriously? Personally, since beginning the Serene Hope Foundation to help out the unfortunate and those in difficult situations, I find greater joy and purpose in my life and feel more comfortable reading this passage.
The Eucharist itself is like a two act play – the liturgy of the Word, and the liturgy of the Eucharist – the first calling us to greater justice, and the other empowering us to act with greater justice and love for the poor and needy around us.
May our celebration empower us to make of our lives a dynamic play of repentance and humbly working for greater justice in our world. The one biblical writer who said it best and most succinctly was Micah: we are to act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with our God.