Perfect Sacrifice
  • Sunday, August 11, 2013

12 Pentecost

First reading and psalm: Isa. 1:1, 10-20 • Ps. 50:1-8, 23-24

Alternate: Gen. 15:1-6 • Ps. 33:12-22 • Heb. 11:1-3, 8-16 • Luke 12:32-40

The madness of Sodom and Gomorrah is first named in Genesis as sexual abuse and inhospitality, although in subsequent texts these ancient cities near the Dead Sea become a general symbol for evil and the threat of impending judgment. The prophet names these cities “you rulers of Sodom” and “you people of Gomorrah!”’ to identify an evil at the center of religious practice (Isa. 1:10). The prophet’s raging iconoclasm is not, however, a wholesale rejection of solemn assemblies, processions, prostrations, and sacrifice. The matter is simply this: they are mixed with iniquity (Isa. 1:13).

Thus the whole business of religion becomes vile and putrid, an offense to God for its wanton disregard for human good. God groans: “I have had enough of burnt offering of rams and the fat of fed beasts” (Isa. 1:11). “Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates” (1:14). “Your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; … learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isa. 1:15b-17). There is yet time. Coming to the altar with hatred toward your neighbor? Go home. Will what God wills first, and then dare to eat the bread of angels and sip the wine of all newness.

To get our religion right, it is a good practice to return often to original promises. Abram, our ancient father, waited for a son, although his body and that of his beloved wife were, to use the too-honest words of the Epistle to the Hebrews, “as good as dead” (11:12). Thus the promise was, from a human point of view, impossible. Against the evidence of this impossibility, God stretches out the firmament splattered with nighttime stars and calls Abram to look up. So shall his descendants be. In the sheer force of this promise, he went seeking a homeland, awaiting a child. In time, Abraham would see the promises of God, but always as if appearing in the distance, always waiting, always in faith. Thus waiting, he went about the business of living in the company of the people he was called to lead and love. The daily round and the common task greeted even the God-possessed patriarchs. Ever looking for a homeland, wandering Abraham became the father of a nation called to “seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” Here is a religion irrevocably tied to human good.

What is owed to God and what is owed to humanity finds its perfect fulfillment in the God-man, Jesus Christ our Lord. He is a sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for every human sin, flaw, and injury. He is the pure Lamb that protects the doorpost, the delivering presence that guards against the angel of death. He is in his person a summation of all the blood poured out upon all the altars on all the high and holy places. He is the beginning and the end of this outpouring. And never is there a moment when his self-offering is severed from his humanity.

Looking to God, he need not look away from his brothers and sisters. Indeed, in his person he carries a “human nature,” which, however abstract the phrase may seem, is an attempt to gather up the tactile truth not of a few but of every human being. He is the one who calls out to and fulfills our true humanity. He says, “Open the door to me as soon as I come” (Luke 12:36). He comes “to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

Look It Up
Read Ps. 50:7. Take heart when God bears witness against you.

Think About It
Your better self isn’t yourself. It is Christ in you.

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