Mar 7, 2022: Monday of the First Week of Lent

 

1st Reading – Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18

The LORD said to Moses,
“Speak to the whole assembly of the children of Israel and tell them:
Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.

“You shall not steal.
You shall not lie or speak falsely to one another.
You shall not swear falsely by my name,
thus profaning the name of your God.
I am the LORD.

“You shall not defraud or rob your neighbor.
You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your day laborer.
You shall not curse the deaf,
or put a stumbling block in front of the blind,
but you shall fear your God.
I am the LORD.

“You shall not act dishonestly in rendering judgment.
Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty,
but judge your fellow men justly.
You shall not go about spreading slander among your kin;
nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake.
I am the LORD.

“You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart.
Though you may have to reprove him,
do not incur sin because of him.
Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD.”

The Book of Leviticus focuses mainly on the Israelite tribe of Levi, and particularly on its priests and their duties in regard to divine worship. The book is a kind of manual for liturgy intended primarily for priests (also known as Levites), whereas Deuteronomy is intended primarily for the laity.

Today we read a selection from what is called the Holiness Code, which spans chapters 17-26 of the book of Leviticus. It’s called the Holiness Code because the whole section emphasizes the holiness of Yahweh and urges the Israelites to be holy as Yahweh is holy.

The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.

This command is the first of a two-part passage that serves as today’s first reading. The exhortation made for holiness is based on the highest possible reason: the fact that God is holy.

Holiness is the quintessential characteristic of God. It is much broader in scope than mere goodness; it might be best understood as “godness,” or divine majesty.

God is holy — totally set apart from and above everything else — and he expects his people to be holy, too.

“You shall not steal. You shall not lie or speak falsely to one another. You shall not swear falsely by my name, thus profaning the name of your God.

The second part of the passage is a partial reiteration of the Ten Commandments, specifically against stealing (Exodus 20:15; Deuteronomy 5:19), wrongly using God’s name (Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:11), and swearing falsely against another (Exodus 20:16; Deuteronomy 5:20).

Laws like these which we find in the traditions of Israel, particularly those described in the Holiness Code, are directives that outline for us the way we are to accomplish the holiness that God commands of us.

I am the LORD.

The gravity of these laws is made clear by the refrain “I am the LORD” that punctuates each exhortation.

“You shall not defraud or rob your neighbor. You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your day laborer.

The ethical and social obligations of God’s law includes not withholding the rights from anyone. We must not take that which is not our own, either by fraud or robbery; we must also not delay giving that which belongs to another, particularly the wages of a hired laborer. Denying or deferring the payment of wages, to the damage of the worker, is a sin that cries to heaven for vengeance (see James 5:4).

You shall not curse the deaf, or put a stumbling block in front of the blind,
but you shall fear your God. I am the LORD.

In Deuteronomy 27:18 a curse falls on anyone who misleads the blind.

“You shall not act dishonestly in rendering judgment. Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty, but judge your fellow men justly.

“Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the ‘virtue of religion.’ Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1807).

You shall not go about spreading slander among your kin; nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake. I am the LORD.

We are forbidden to do anything injurious to our neighbor’s good name and reputation. Further, if someone is being accused of wrongdoing and we know they are innocent, we are to speak in their name and not look the other way.

You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart.

In order to be holy as God is holy, we must refrain from nursing hatred in our hearts.

Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of him.

The Israelites were required to correct others when necessary, under pain of sin.

Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people.

We are forbidden to entertain any form of vengeance.

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

The passage ends with the most famous verse in the book of Leviticus, the words that Jesus quoted in the gospels. The well-being of others must be as important to us as our own.

Note the communal nature of all these directives: our likeness to God is determined by the way we relate to others.

The Holiness Code, like Jesus himself, required much more than legalistic observance of the law. To be holy, the Israelites must have a conversion of heart, and always act justly and lovingly toward others. Said another way, holiness is not the consequence of obedience to these laws; rather, holiness is an all-inclusive way of life.

 I am the LORD.”

The reading ends with the final refrain of the solemn divine self-proclamation: I am the Lord! This is the way it is to be.

Psalm 19:8-10, 15

R. (John 6:63b) Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life. 

Psalm 19 describes the blessings that acceptance of the law can impart. It does this not merely to describe the law but also to persuade the people to embrace it as the will of God and to live in accord with it.

When most people today talk about law, they normally mean legal enactments that have some degree of binding force. While this is certainly one dimension of the meaning of the Hebrew word, tôrâ might be better translated as “instruction” or “teaching.” As found in the Bible, the law consists of directives for living a full and god-fearing life.

The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul;

Each of the statements in this psalm identifies the law as belonging to the Lord. This is not just any religious law; it is uniquely Israel’s, because in a very specific way it represents the will of the God of Israel.

If the law is understood as the will of God for human beings, then the qualities enshrined in that law could legitimately be considered reflections of divine attributes. If the law is thought to be that point where an encounter with God takes place, then those who are shaped by the law will be godlike.

The qualities associated with the law found in this psalm are some of the most highly prized attributes in any tradition. The law is perfect, or complete; it is trustworthy, upright, and clear; it is pure and true. Fidelity to the law should lead one to the godliness that is enshrined within it.

the decree of the LORD is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple.

The enumerated effects of the law are all relational, enhancing human life itself. The law imbues the soul with new vitality; it gives wisdom to those who would not ordinarily have it.

The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;

The law delights the heart.

the command of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eye.

The law enables the eyes to see dimensions of truth otherwise obscured.

The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever;

The law establishes an enduring attitude of awe. This is taken as part of the law, insofar as it commands man to honor and respect God.

the ordinances of the LORD are true, all of them just.

The law is a path to righteousness.

Note how the psalm outlines the various forms of the law (law, precepts, commandments, ordinances), the qualities associated with them (perfection, reliability, purity, etc.), and the benefits they bestow on humanity (life, wisdom, joy, light, etc.).

The psalmist is teaching that the law is life-giving and not restrictive, ennobling and not demeaning. Reverence for the law seems to promise the best that life has to offer.

Let the words of my mouth and the thought of my heart find favor before you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

The psalmist begs for divine acceptance of his service. He acclaims God as his “rock” and “redeemer,” an expression of trust in God’s strength, hope in his gracious nature, and gratitude for his salvation.

Gospel – Matthew 25:31-46

Jesus said to his disciples:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
and all the angels with him,
he will sit upon his glorious throne,
and all the nations will be assembled before him.
And he will separate them one from another,
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right,
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply,
‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left,
‘Depart from me, you accursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me no food,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
a stranger and you gave me no welcome,
naked and you gave me no clothing,
ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’
Then they will answer and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison,
and not minister to your needs?’
He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you,
what you did not do for one of these least ones,
you did not do for me.’
And these will go off to eternal punishment,
but the righteous to eternal life.”

Today we read the last part of Jesus’ eschatological discourse. The scene of the Last Judgment that unfolds is both sobering and surprising; it is a scene of apocalyptic splendor and majesty, a scene of separation of the righteous from the unrighteous, a scene of reward and punishment.

Christian tradition refers to this event as the Last Judgment to distinguish it from the particular judgment which everyone undergoes immediately after death. The sentence pronounced at the end of time will simply be a public, formal confirmation of that already passed.

Jesus said to his disciples: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, 

Jesus sketches a vision of the eschatological future. The coming of the Son of Man, the angels, and the glorious throne are all reminiscent of the apocalyptic scene of the coming of one like a Son of Man in Daniel 7:14.

In the Prophets and in the Book of Revelation, the Messiah is depicted on a throne, like a judge.

and all the nations will be assembled before him.

Note the universalism: all people are brought before him for judgment and sentencing. Before the end, the gospel will have been preached throughout the world (see Matthew 24:14), and all will be judged on their response to it.

And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 

Jesus portrays the judgment using the image of a shepherd separating sheep from goats. This practice would have been quite familiar to Jesus’ audience; it actually continues in Palestine today. The sheep and goats are pastured together but are separated when it is time for them to be moved.

He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

The sheep are preferred because they are more valuable, and so they are placed at the Son of Man’s right hand, the place of privilege.

Then the king will say to those on his right, 

The Son of Man is acting in his role as king, executing the Father’s will.

‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’

With a blessing, he invites the righteous to enter the kingdom.

The reason given for the judgment is surprising. It is not the accomplishment of some phenomenal feat, but whether or not they meet the very basic human needs of others.

Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’

The righteous ones show surprise. They did these things out of love, not out of hope for a reward.

And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

These simple acts become works of Christian charity when the person doing them sees Christ in these “least” of their brethren.

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 

The image of eternal fire as the place of punishment for those who do evil appears in Revelation (see Revelation 14:6-13).

For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’

Here we see the seriousness of sins of omission; i.e., failure to do something which one should do. We will be held accountable not only for the evil we have done but also for the good we have omitted.

Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’

Like the righteous, the accursed are also astonished that their neglect of the needy was neglect of the Lord. The basis of the command to love one’s neighbor is Christ’s presence in the least of our brothers and sisters.

This teaching shows that Christianity cannot be reduced to a kind of agency for “doing good.” Service to our neighbor acquires supernatural value when it is done out of love for Christ, when we see Christ in the person in need. This is why Saint Paul asserts that “if I give away all that I have… but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3).

Any interpretation of Jesus’ teaching on the Last Judgment is wide of the mark if it gives a materialistic meaning or confuses mere philanthropy with genuine Christian charity.

And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

In this rich passage, we see three major themes, each founded on a basic truth of faith:

  1. There will be a Last Judgment at the end of time;
  2. Christ identifies himself with everyone in need: the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned;
  3. The fate of those who do good and those who do evil is not the same; the sinful will experience an eternal punishment, and the just an eternal reward.

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