Friday, February 26, 2010

Hard to Swallow

Today's first reading registers the protest upstanding citizens feel when losers seem to get away with something. Only in this case, the upstanding are the religiously observant and the "losers" are people who used to be negligent, but who have repented and turned away from sin. Something in us wants people to be saddled with that scarlet letter to eternity and beyond, just as a sign that once upon a time they were not in such good graces.
The Gospel, on first glance, doesn't seem to match that reading at all. It is Jesus' exhortation from the Sermon on the Mount that enmities be resolved before people attempt to offer a sacrifice to the Lord. Those enmities can be anywhere between anger and contemptuous dismissal; whatever the cause, whatever the kind, it invalidates worship. No matter how rich the sacrifice you bring to the altar, your "debt" remains, to be exacted "to the last penny."
As if the liturgy of the day didn't give me enough to reflect on, I am attempting to turn in the last of my batch of "Grace" assignments: the passage I have left is also from the Sermon on the Mount, just a few verses after today's Gospel. It is the part about loving your enemies. Jesus is only warming up to that in today's passage! But if God "loves his enemies" by accepting their sincere repentance, he is only asking us to do the same. Today, it's the "brother" who sins against us (or holds our sin against us); tomorrow, it is our outright enemy. Paul hints that "if, while we were sinners, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son" how can we withhold reconciliation from one another?
A real Lenten (and lifetime) challenge!

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