Monthly Scripture Reflection

“one’s faults [appear] when one speaks”
Sirach 27:4

Wow! What a sly way to prepare us for Lent. Ash Wednesday is March 6, and soon enough we will be hearing admonitions to repent, to practice penances, to do good works. The traditional Lenten “pray, fast, give alms” reminders we are given every year. But this year we are being asked in advance: What else are we kidding ourselves about when we think we’re doing okay?

Readings in the first week in March are a stop-and-examine guide. Sirach says, “Praise no one before he speaks, for it is then that people are tested.” St. Paul in 1 Corinthians urges us to “be firm . . . devoted to the work of the Lord” else our labor may be in vain.” St. Luke in his Gospel asks, “Can a blind man guide a blind person?” and warns us to “remove the wooden beam from your own eye first, then you will see clearly to remove a splinter” from your neighbor’s. If “every tree is known by its own fruit,” what do our works reveal about us?

Ash Wednesday announces our great opportunity: “Now is a very acceptable time . . . the day of salvation.” God is pleading with us, “Return to me with your whole heart.” Demonstrate true remorse by rend[ing] your hearts, not your garments.” Do your praying, fasting and giving alms but never for show! “Your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

Words must always be attended to, those we speak and those we hear and read. In Deuteronomy we read that God heard the cries of his afflicted people in Egypt. “I know well what they are suffering” He says in Exodus. He reminds us of His covenant word spoken in Genesis that He will give [us] a land “flowing with milk and honey”—what we need and also more. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus hears the words of the tempter and throws them back against him. Sts. Peter, James and John were taken up the mountain to pray with Jesus—and missed the point. When Jesus was transfigured, Peter “did not know what he was saying” when he wanted to build a grand tent in commemoration. He should instead have been all ears when the voice of God said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

We use words of appeal when we ask God for a second chance, as parables highlight. The fig tree owner wanted to cut down a non-bearing tree; we with the gardener plead for one more year to work on our problem. The prodigal son came crawling home with words of contrition, and his delighted father threw a party for him. And the father had words of encouragement for the resentful brother. “Son, you are with me always; everything I have is yours. But [your brother] was lost and has been found.”

The Epistles are full of such assurances. “Be reconciled with God.” “Don’t receive the grace of God in vain.” “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.” “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” “Stand firm in the Lord.”  “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation.” God has “reconciled us to himself through Christ” and has “given us the ministry of reconciliation.”

All these things “have been written down as a warning to us.” This is why we have to go over our lives. Are we “righteous” only because Jesus has made it possible for us to be so? When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, it was not enough for Moses to say “Here I am.” He had to do what the Lord commanded. In Paul we read that the person who

“thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall”
1 Corinthians 10:12