God’s hope in us stands upon us recognizing our sinful ways. We want so bad to be good, and we often are. Our afflictions, though, drop our guard. “Keep my life, for I am devoted to you; save your servant who trusts in you. You are my God,” prays the psalmist. He knows we are weak.
“Have mercy on me, O Lord, for to you I call all the day.”
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By John Pearring
Hey, Isaiah 58:9b-14 doesn’t sound too hard.
If you remove from your midst oppression,
false accusation and malicious speech . . .
Those are fairly obvious, right? Don’t oppress, falsely accuse, and speak with malicious words. I can see my mother’s look, feel my father’s hand on my backside, and hear my grandmother’s retorts when I did these things as a child. I was taught well not to be like that. I’m above all that.
The next part seems straightforward, too.
If you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted . . .
I’m pretty sure I fulfill those tasks. Maybe not with as much fervor or intensity as I should, but they make perfect sense. I think these became more serious issues when I got married and we had a 1/2 dozen children. I had to set an example and not just imagine myself being a good person. I had to be heads and shoulders above the sorry lot of others.
Then things get a little more awkward.
If you honor [the sabbath] by not following your ways,
seeking your own interests, or speaking with malice . . .
My steps have gone the wrong way on being better than others. With this next litany of “ifs,” I am no longer on a small hill, no longer head above the rest. There it is again. I thought that wasn’t me. This “If” also concludes with the same warning, “speaking with malice.” This time Isaiah is specific, in regard to the holy day. I can hear my malicious gossip about Mass times and poorly performed liturgies. My memory clears up. I hear my malicious anger over other people’s actions. My malicious words spill onto the internet, speak against the politicians. I have been verbally upset with the folks in charge.
I’ve been malicious. Sought my own interests. Followed my ways. I can’t escape the importance. Honor the holy day and so much else by not following your ways, not seeking your own interests. Man, oh, man.
God gets his hour or two on Sunday. Why even on Wednesday mornings, and my prayer time that begins each day, too. But the whole day? I can’t remember ever doing that, except on some infrequent retreats. The rest of my sinfulness comes pouring out.
God’s hope in us stands in front of us. Only fools cannot see their sinful ways. We want so badly to be good, and we often are. Our afflictions, though, drop our guard. I cannot be who God wants, or whom I want to be in God’s sight, without his help. The first return to God is repentance.
“Keep my life, for I am devoted to you; save your servant who trusts in you. You are my God,” prays the psalmist in Psalm 86. God knows we are weak.
“Have mercy on me, O Lord, for to you I call all the day,” the psalmist continues. This should be me, and I must pray with him.
“For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in kindness to all who call upon you.
Hearken, O LORD, to my prayer
and attend to the sound of my pleading.”
Who is pleading but us, the sinners? We, the pained, & afflicted. We the forgetful. Why would Jesus bend his ear to us, lean down and take us in his arms? Luke tells us why.
“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."
Who among us are not sinners? Wasn’t I being righteous by saying I’m not such a bad guy? I’ve got some quirks and kinks, but I’m . . . blah, blah, blah. Repenting means I must admit my failings, not deny them. God already knows what I’ve done and will do, so what’s the difficulty? I’m not righteous. I am leaning into hubris. That’s bragging. That’s sin hiding sin.
We need God so much. We’re such a bother, though. Isn’t he tired of our shenanigans? Isn’t he done with the repetitive little self-centered and wicked things we do? “But they’re so minor!” we shout. “What’s the big deal?”
We cannot call ourselves repentant if we focus on the good things we do, and minimize the awful. Good things are what we’re supposed to do. It’s not special to be good. It’s the normal behavior of a person in tune with God.
Aha. We’re seldom in tune with God. I’m not so inclined. I can either accept that it is so and repent. Or, I can identify the 'uncontrollable' reasons why I have failed. It’s not really an excuse, we tell ourselves. We’re just human, we say.
What wickedness creeps in, only we know. But it does creep. We trick ourselves into thinking what counts in goodness depends upon others not seeing our wickedness. We hide behind masks. Lipstick on a pig. We're wrong. To repent matters to God.
Ezekiel tells us what God yearns for. I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, says the Lord, but rather in his conversion, that he may live.
And we have reason to live, to stay attuned to God by repenting. Not to hide and obscure our weaknesses, no matter how small they may be. We shout the responsorial acclamation: Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth.
Why do we do that? Why ask for that? Why get on our knees over our little sins? Isaiah gave us the principles to live by. They’re little sins, purposely shy of mortal. We think we’re heads above others. And then Isaiah tells us why we should act a certain way, repenting to turn back to God, even in the slowly dimmed light of our minor sins. “If” we do as Isaiah asks, fully engaged in tuning ourselves to God, the following occurs. We won’t hold our heads high, or stand on a mountain top. It’ll be much more exciting. We won't stand. We will ride.
Then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday.
He will renew your strength,
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring whose water never fails.
Then you shall delight in the LORD,
and . . . God proclaims to us. “I will make you ride on the heights of the earth.”