Isaiah 1:10, 16-20
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;
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.
Psalm 50: 8-9, 16bc-17, 21, 23
Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you;
your burnt offerings are continually before me.
I will not accept a bull from your house,
or goats from your folds.
“What right have you to recite my statutes,
or take my covenant on your lips?
For you hate discipline,
and you cast my words behind you.
These things you have done and I have been silent;
you thought that I was one just like yourself.
But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you.
Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me;
to those who go the right way
I will show the salvation of God.”
Matthew 23: 1-12
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 honor 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 will be exalted."
A non-Christian once asked her Catholic friend, “Why do Catholics give things up for Lent, and fast on certain days? Why would God care if you do that?” “Well,” her friend replied, “it’s a discipline, and discipline makes you a better person.”
Lent is a season for embracing not only physical discipline, but spiritual discipline as well, and there are few spiritual disciplines more rigorous than walking in humility, which the readings address today. Humility does not involve self-deprecation or a denial of our gifts or value as children of God, but it does require us to continually put ourselves in our own place and God in His. The Pharisees in the Gospel were obviously living to satisfy themselves; consciously or not, they were placing themselves on God’s throne and were spending their energy crafting a certain image of themselves rather than authentically seeking God, changing themselves, and trying to do His will.
While the Pharisees’ public displays show a clear lack of humility, there are other ways we can exalt ourselves. For example, every time we sin, we are putting our own ideas of right and wrong above the law of God, or are exalting ourselves to make an exception to the rule. It is also possible to put on appearances of humility or piety but to neglect true charity as we harbor attitudes such as bitterness, envy, or ingratitude. In either case, we are choosing not to let God into those dark places of our hearts, but to exalt our feelings and desires over His will for us.
Despite our natural tendencies toward sin and pride, however, the readings today offer us hope of continual renewal if we are willing to put those sins in their place and exalt the Lord in our lives. Through the physical and spiritual disciplines of Lent, we are called to look at our hearts, cast off the sins in our lives, and allow the Lord to change any attitudes or habits that are not pleasing to Him. Take a few moments today to ask the Lord how He desires you to humble yourself before Him today. Name any vices, desires, or fears that you may be exalting too high in your heart and ask the Lord to take His place there instead. Trust that when you place yourself completely at His feet, He will raise you up.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for the abundant graces you pour out during the season of Lent. Help me to make use of this time to humble myself before you and to serve others the way you are calling me to. Today I give you every struggle I am facing, especially the ones that you alone can see. I exalt your goodness over my weakness, and thank you for walking with me and raising me up to be close to you. Amen.