Tuesday of the First Week of Lent | Readings: Isaiah 55:10–11; Matthew 6:7–15
I must tell you that the First Reading today, which is the short but lovely conclusion of Second Isaiah’s “Book of Consolation,” is one of my favorites. It is poetic, intriguing, daring, and yet authoritative all at the same time. It is the reason I love the Jewish Scriptures and that Jesus was a Jew. This is the mind and heart that created him!
Here we have a writer in the fullness of the Babylonian exile, Jerusalem has fallen, no end in sight, and still he (some say “she”!) can speak with totally calm inevitability, kind certainty, and even joyful trust. (Treat yourself and open your Bible to 55:12–13 to see his or her final exclamation point, which is not included in the Lectionary reading.) While Isaiah is herself suffering, s/he still loves enough to want to make God “famous” and “ineffaceable”!
Then we have Matthew’s version of the “Our Father,” preceded by a warning against “rattling on” with too many prayers, and ending with a promise of a perfect and fair equivalence between how you forgive and how you will be forgiven. I mean no offense to our Catholic practice of confessing sins to a priest in order to be forgiven, but we must be honest and admit that Jesus made the essential requirement for the forgiveness of sin rather clear and definitive here: As you do it, it will be done to you.
If you do not do it, it cannot be done to you. We are merely and forever inside of the divine flow, just like Isaiah’s “rain and snow.” Forgiveness is not some churchy technique or formula. Forgiveness is constant from God’s side, which should become a calm, joyous certainty on our side. Mercy received will be mercy passed on, and “will not return to me empty, until it has succeeded in what it was sent to do.”
“As the rain and snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth and making it yield. . . so the word does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.” —Isaiah 55:10–11
“Forgive us our debts as we forgive others. . . . If you forgive the faults of others, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours. If you do not forgive others, neither can your heavenly father forgive you yours.” —Matthew 6:12, 14–15
“Good God, keep me forever inside of your abundant and generous flow of mercy, toward me, through me, in me, and from me.”