The prophet Isaiah is known for his gentle passages, perhaps due to the lovely settings found in so much classical music as well as contemporary liturgical compositions. But remember, this is the same guy who had his lips cauterized in the Temple. Recall also that cloak rolled in blood at Midnight Mass.
Isaiah opens up his “book” (some would say scroll) with a bitter condemnation of “Sodom and Gomorrah,” along with their religious practices:
Hear the word of the LORD,
princes of Sodom!
Listen to the instruction of our God,
people of Gomorrah!
What do I care for the multitude 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 to appear before me,
who asks these things of you?
Trample my courts no more!
To bring offerings is useless;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and sabbath, calling assemblies—
festive convocations 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 will close my eyes to you;
Though you pray the more,
I will not listen.
Can you imagine? The more we pray, the more God might not listen. This is why, a lack of justice, and the misdeeds that go with it:
Your hands are full of blood!
Wash yourselves clean!
Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes;
cease doing evil;
learn to do good.
And what might this catechesis entail? What Jesus talked about:
Make justice your aim: redress the wronged,
hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.
Come now, let us set things right,
says the Lord:
Though your sins be like scarlet,
they may become white as snow;
Though they be red like crimson,
they may become white as wool.
This passage strikes me as a good one for Lent, though Advent is not bad either. Many communities take pride in liturgy–either conservatives who do and say the right things, or progressives with impressive and participatory liturgy. Does this activity evangelize? Does it relieve suffering? Does it take action to attempt to right a few of the world’s wrongs? That is what the prophet is asking. That is what the Lord Jesus asks, too.
Psalm 51 seems a no-brainer for a pairing in the Liturgy of the Word. Beatitudes, perhaps, for the Gospel. Can you think of a better passage from Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John to use?