Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
I find no fault with your sacrifices,
your offerings are always before me.
I do not ask more bullocks from your farms,
nor goats from among your herds. (R./)
But how can you recite my commandments
and take my covenant on your lips,
you who despise my law
and throw my words to the winds. (R./)
You do this, and should I keep silence?
Do you think that I am like you?
A sacrifice of thanksgiving honours me
and I will show God's salvation to the upright. (R./)
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father, the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves ill be exalted.
Our Scriptures today promote consistency and integrity of life. All must fit together in a living unity: thoughts and actions, interior desire and exterior forms of justice. This harmonious inner life reaches outward, beyond clothing and titles, beyond one's immediate circle of friends and acquaintances, to all the poor and needy within reach and beyond! "Redress the wronged, hear the orphan's plea and defend the widow."
Orphan and widow symbolize all the helpless and indigent people of the world. Isaiah mentions them after a stern passage, omitted in today's liturgy. To neglect the poor while spreading out one's hands in prayer draws from God the terrifying response: "I close my eyes to you … I will not listen." In fact, indifference towards the poor, God declares, makes "your hands . . . full of blood!" The prophet must have shouted the next phrase. "Wash yourselves clean!" How? – by attending to the orphan and widow. Despite our serious sins of omission to feed the starving and to defend the helpless – God offers the possibility of total conversion. "Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool."
All this happens "if you are willing and obey." "But if you refuse and resist, the sword shall consume you, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken." We may question whether Isaiah's consoling message of forgiveness and new life should have ended on such a terrifying note. Consistency and integral wholeness are a matter of life or death, of family or disintegration. The offer of total love has no other option.