The beginning of Isaiah 43 is one of the most gentle and tender passages in the Bible, the inspiration for many songs. But the end of the chapter is blunt, God telling his people he forgave their sins because they were so bothersome. A little rabbinical exaggeration? What do you think, after reading?
Thus says the Lord:
Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob,
for you grew weary of me, O Israel.
You did not bring me sheep for your burnt offerings,
nor honor me with your sacrifices.
I did not exact from you the service of offerings,
nor weary you for frankincense.
You did not buy me sweet cane for money,
nor did you fill me with the fat of your sacrifices;
Instead, you burdened me with your sins,
and wearied me with your crimes.
It is I, I, who wipe out,
for my own sake, your offenses;
your sins I remember no more.
Would you have me remember, have us come to trial?
Speak up, prove your innocence!
Your first father sinned;
your spokesmen rebelled against me
Till I repudiated the holy gates,
put Jacob under the ban,
and exposed Israel to scorn.
This is a different mood. God forgives us because of the burden we have been. The Almighty Lord is tired of our sins and crimes, a reflection on human ambivalence to God. When mortals yawn and disregard God, what is the response? It almost seems as if we are being taunted: dare to convince me you are not guilty, says the Lord.
Do we dare speak up? In the Christian tradition of penance, we do not offer burned animals and fruits of our fields to God as our Jewish ancestors did. Maybe we drop an envelope or a single bill in the basket after the Liturgy of the Word. And many of us consider that a sacrifice.
In the sacrament of reconciliation, the penitent brings a different offering. We bring what we have done wrong. We bring transgressions, omissions, sins, and even crimes. Does God get tired of this? We’re running on two millennia of things we have done and things we’ve failed to do. Twenty centuries of deeds, words, and thoughts. Over seven hundred thousand days of evil. Does it ever end?
This is a sobering reading. Not too long, so suitable for individual reconciliation–assuming the penitent is well-known to the confessor. Maybe something for an Advent or Lent service. How would you preach it? What Gospel reading complements it, do you think?