“In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.” ― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956
Scripture Text: (IS 1:10-17)
Hear the word of the LORD,
princes of Sodom!
Listen to the instruction of our God,
people of Gomorrah!
What care I for the number of your sacrifices?
says the LORD.
I have had enough of whole-burnt rams
and fat of fatlings;
In the blood of calves, lambs and goats
I find no pleasure.
When you come in to visit me,
who asks these things of you?
Trample my courts no more!
Bring no more worthless offerings;
your incense is loathsome to me.
New moon and sabbath, calling of assemblies,
octaves with wickedness: these I cannot bear.
Your new moons and festivals I detest;
they weigh me down, I tire of the load.
When you spread out your hands,
I close my eyes to you;
Though you pray the more,
I will not listen.
Your hands are full of blood!
Wash yourselves clean!
Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes;
cease doing evil; learn to do good.
Make justice your aim: redress the wronged,
hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.
In our first reading from the Mass the people appear on the surface to be devout. They offer sacrifice. They burn incense. They celebrate their religious festivals. Yet, beneath the veneer of worship, the people were judged to be as sinful as Sodom and Gomorrah. Their society is corrupt.
Why? Because in the midst of their affluence, they ignored the poor and destitute among them. They failed to care for the widows, the orphans, immigrants and the poor. These groups had no social power. Many lived only days from starvation. The more Judah’s leadership and priestly class prayed, the less God listened.
Are we disturbed by this reading? Can we hear God condemning our ethos of consumerism? All too many corporations purchase cheap goods from foreign nations, turning a blind eye to the exploitation of men, women and children who produced those goods, which we happily consume. Closer to home, the marginalized could be expanded to include the migrant worker, the homeless, and the many single parents and elderly.
For the people of Judah – and for us – the only way worship will have meaning is when it is coupled with justice: “make justice your aim,” we are told. In the Hebrew, the word justice is tzadeqah. It means conducting our relationships in family and society with fairness, generosity and equity. It means being just, doing deeds of kindness, even when it’s difficult. Only when we live in right relationship – in justice — with all around us, will we live in right relationship with God.