Mar 5, 2022: Saturday After Ash Wednesday

1st Reading – Isaiah 58:9b-14

Thus says the LORD:
If you remove from your midst
oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;
if you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday.
Then the LORD will guide you always
and give you plenty even on the parched land.
He will renew your strength,
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring whose water never fails.
The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake,
and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up;
“Repairer of the breach,” they shall call you,
“Restorer of ruined homesteads.”

Today’s first reading is a continuation of yesterday’s reading. The prophet Isaiah is teaching those who have returned to the Holy Land from exile in Babylon that God does not want empty religious practices. Rather, God wants actions that make God’s love visible to God’s people.

Thus says the LORD: If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;

The set of injunctions that follows addresses other social concerns in addition to the basic human needs mentioned in yesterday’s reading.

“Oppression” is a broad term and could refer to economic burdens, political repression, or social abuse.

if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.

Isaiah is speaking to people steeped in anguish, stuck in “the gloom.” His advice for them is to share their bread with the hungry, which may seem odd and impractical. However, no matter how bleak our current state is, we always have bread to bestow on the hungry. If we reach out to satisfy the afflicted, “then light shall rise for you in the darkness.” Actively sharing in the misery of others is the sure way out of our own.

Then the LORD will guide you always and give you plenty even on the parched land. He will renew your strength, and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring whose water never fails.

The account of the blessings and benefits that accompany the performance of their duty continues. In addition to enlightenment, God will give them continual guidance and direction; he will bountifully make up to them anything they have extended to others in need.

These blessings will flow like a spring, which would have been a very meaningful analogy in the arid climate of the Middle East. A spring continually sends forth precious water, yet is always full. The man who gives water to others shall always be watered.

The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake, and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up; “Repairer of the breach,” they shall call you, “Restorer of ruined homesteads.”

Remember that Isaiah is speaking to the exiles who have returned to the Holy Land to rebuild their nation and the temple. The final blessing of God will be their success in re-edifying their cities which have long been in ruins. They will do good works with lasting consequence.

Psalm 86:1-6

R. Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth.

Psalm 86 is entitled “a prayer of David;” it was probably not written on any specific occasion, but was a prayer he often used himself and recommended to others for their use, especially in a day of affliction.

Incline your ear, O LORD; answer me, for I am afflicted and poor. 

David presents himself to God as a “poor” man who has placed his trust in him.

Keep my life, for I am devoted to you; save your servant who trusts in you. You are my God.

Further, David portrays himself as God’s servant, devoted to his service (see Isaiah 42:1).

Have mercy on me, O Lord, for to you I call all the day. Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.

Notice the constant reference to God as “LORD,” or “my Lord” (Adonai), in the sense of “my Owner” or “my Master.”

For you, O LORD, are good and forgiving, abounding in kindness to all who call upon you. 

The psalmist calls God “good and forgiving,” most likely because of the way he has experienced God in the past. God is also described as abounding in lovingkindness (hesed), the kind of steadfast love associated with the covenant.

Hearken, O LORD, to my prayer and attend to the sound of my pleading.

After extolling God with confidence, he begs God to listen to his fervent pleas.

Note the parallel construction of the entreaty, which intensifies it:

Hearken….. to my prayer
Attend….. to the sound of my pleading

David knows that God, being who he is, listens when he pleads for help. This conviction, in turn, gives strength to his prayer.

Gospel – Luke 5:27-32

Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post.
He said to him, “Follow me.”
And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him.
Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house,
and a large crowd of tax collectors
and others were at table with them.
The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying,
“Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.
I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”

Today’s gospel reading is the call of the apostle Levi, better known as Matthew. It also includes an account of Jesus responding to criticism from the Pharisees and the scribes.

Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post.

The Jewish people were taxed into poverty by their Roman oppressors, who lived opulently. The tax collectors who facilitated this unjust system were Jews employed by Rome.

He said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him.

Levi responds immediately to the call from Jesus.

The detail about leaving everything behind fits Luke’s theme of complete detachment of material possessions.

Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were at table with them.

To celebrate and show his appreciation for his new vocation, Levi gives a banquet.

This passage shows us that a vocation is something about which we should be grateful and happy. If we see it only in terms of renunciation and sacrifice, and not as a gift from God that will enhance our lives and the lives of others, we can easily become depressed, like the rich young man who went away sad from Jesus (Luke 18:18ff).

The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

Tax collectors were despised in Jewish society. Not only were they part of the economic system put in place by the occupying Romans, they were often petty tyrants and renegades who took advantage of the ambiguous tax code to collect more than what was owed, which they kept as profit. There was no standard scale governing this added charge, so tax collectors often exacted exorbitant amounts.

To be extorted in such a way by their own Jewish brethren, fellow members of God’s chosen people, to the benefit of their enemies, was unthinkable.

In the Pharisees’ eyes, Jesus defiles himself by merely associating with such notorious sinners.

Jesus said to them in reply, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”

In reality, it was a wonder of the grace of Christ that he would not only admit a converted tax collector into his small family of apostles, but would keep company with unconverted tax collectors and other sinners, that he might have an opportunity of doing their souls good.

In other words, rather than him being defiled by associating with them, they are purified by associating with him.

Since this is how Jesus operates, the only way we can be saved is by admitting before God, in all simplicity, that we are sinners.

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