I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, "Ah, Lord, great and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love with those who love you and keep your commandments, we have sinned and done wrong, acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and ordinances. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.
"Righteousness is on your side, O Lord, but open shame, as at this day, falls on us, the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you.
Open shame, O Lord, falls on us, our kings, our officials, and our ancestors, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him, and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by following his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.
Do not hold the guilt of our fathers against us.
Let your compassion hasten to meet us
for we are in the depths of distress. (R./)
O God our saviour, come to our help,
come for the sake of the glory of your name.
O Lord our God, forgive us our sins,
rescue us for the sake of your name. (R./)
Let the groans of the prisoners come before you;
let your strong arm reprieve those condemned to die.
But we, your people, the flock of your pasture,
will give you thanks for ever and ever.
We will tell your praise from age to age.. (R./)
Jesus said to his disciples: "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged;do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."
It was a strong Jewish tradition to call to God for mercy, sure that it would be granted. Praying for mercy like this is maybe not so popular these days, but contrition is not a practice that we should neglect. Recognising our faults opens our hearts to God’s grace and encourages us to renewal. There is much in today’s first reading for us to adopt, in our own life and times.
It’s not that Daniel himself was notably sinful, but he felt a shared responsibility for the sins of his people. This is clear from his "Confiteor" mainly expressed in the plural. "We have sinned and done wrong." He does not say exactly how, but probably refer to the godless situation that led to the people being exiled in Babylon. Daniel felt an intense need for conversion in his personal life, but especially for his people’s return to the practice of their faith. He makes a heartfelt plea for reform and renewal.
"We have acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments." This was true before and after the exile, when many in Israel drifted away from their religion and adopted foreign ways. In particular, Daniel regrets his people’s stubborn refusal to repent, even when they got clear and firm guidance from prophecy, "We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name."
The young prophet Daniel admits to being "shamefaced" in the presence of God. Shame can be harmful but it can also be purifying. It can lead to humility and honesty. It can help the adult to be again as a child in spirit, in trust, willing to learn.
Our Gospel today names the moral ideal for Christians. St Luke expresses the supreme moral ideal of Jesus as, "Be merciful, as your Father is merciful." This is quite a challenge for Jesus does not allow us to practice mercy in tiny instalments. After being offended, we need to forgive the other person fully, with a pardon so full that it runs over like liquid from an overflowing vessel. We seek to show more love than the other showed hate, and in this way overcome evil with goodness. Even if we never quite achieve this, it remains a target to aim at and to pray about.
Some fasting during Lent can reduce our spirit of aggressiion or arrogance, if it is accompanied by a real surrender to God. Fasting reminds us of the kind of mildness and compassion God expects of us.
Guided by compassion, we pray for mercy with the confidence of Daniel in today’s reading. We can admit to God that "we have rebelled and departed from your commandments." When confessing our sins like this, we are already within the circle of God’s love and our sins are wiped out by God’s spirit that is already within us.