15th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday (Year II)
Isaiah 1:10-17; Matthew 10:34—11:1
Hear the word of the LORD, princes of Sodom! Listen to the instruction of our God, people of Gomorrah! What care I for the number of your sacrifices? says the LORD. I have had enough of whole-burnt rams and fat of fatlings; In the blood of calves, lambs and goats I find no pleasure.
When you come in to visit me, who asks these things of you? Trample my courts no more! Bring no more worthless offerings; your incense is loathsome to me. New moon and sabbath, calling of assemblies, octaves with wickedness: these I cannot bear. Your new moons and festivals I detest; they weigh me down, I tire of the load. When you spread out your hands, I close my eyes to you; Though you pray the more, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood! Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.
The prophets obviously never read books like How to Win Friends and Influence People. Addressing Israel by the notorious names of Sodom and Gomorrah could only win friends among the wise and humble. God’s rejection of the people’s “worthless offerings” in Isaiah’s messages were echoed by Samuel, Jeremiah, Hosea and Amos among others, and climaxed with the Son of God himself driving out the money-changers from the temple with a whip of cords (John 2:14-16 and Synoptic Gospels).
If the prophetic tradition was subjected to a modern management effectiveness evaluation, the results would probably not be favorable.
St. Stephen offered this assessment of the prophetic centuries: “Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it” (Acts 7:52-53).
Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and lawyers, “Woe to you! for you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed,” and charged them for all the murders from Abel to Zechariah, “who perished between the altar and the sanctuary” (Luke 11:47-51).
“Your hands are full of blood!” Isaiah cried, “Wash yourselves clean!”
The serial rejection of the prophets clearly signaled the need for a new strategy. Jesus’ New Law of Grace came to replace the worn-out wineskins of external ritual and law, which alone were ineffective to transform and deify persons from the inside out.
Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Jesus’ words fell on deaf ears then and now, but his revolutionary strategy of offering himself upon the altar of the world caused time to stand still at the eternal axis of the Cross. All lines of history past, present and future converged upon this still point of theandric self-emptying.
Centuries of chastisement and castigation availed little, but the love and humility of Jesus Christ opened the gates of Paradise to hardened rebels like the crucified thief beside him, the first of many whose hearts were crushed with sorrow at the selfless love of the Lord.
The Trinitarian self-emptying of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit at the axis of the Cross, planted within the human person, remains the only truly effective strategy for deification.