Truncated readings

The Catholic lectionary, to emphasize a point, often leaves out verses for a reading, as in today’s first reading from Isaiah 1.

The emphasis of today’s lectionary reading (Isaiah 1: 10, 16-20) is on caring for the poor and the mercy of God who calls us to conversion.

But what was left out?

Isaiah castigates the people for their lack of justice while they continue to offer sacrifices in the temple.

I am sated with burnt offerings…
Bringing oblations is futile,
Incense is offensive to Me….
Though you pray at length,
I will not listen.

But why?

Your hands are stained with blood.

And the response called for?

Cease to do evil;
Learn to do good.
Devote yourself to justice…
Uphold the rights of the orphan;
Defend the cause of the widow.

Isaiah’s call to care for the poor and marginalized is decontextualized if we fail to see his disgust at worship that does not call for us to put away violence and injustice.

All too often the advocates of good liturgy and those of social justice are at odds. But it is not an either/or; it’s both/and.

I attribute part of my concern for social justice to the liturgical movement in the US in the early 1960s when justice and worship were seen as two integral parts of life as a Catholic Christian. Going back to the Benedictine Dom Virgil Michel of St. John’s in Minnesota, liturgy needs to be connected to life and to lead us to living the liturgy in what we do in our daily lives.

If we want to share in the Body of Christ in the Eucharist we should also share with Christ in the poor. If we share with Christ in the poor, we ought to turn to the source of Love and partake of the Eucharist.

That’s the message of Isaiah – and of Jesus and of many saints and witnesses – that we need to live today, in a world full of poverty and divisions.



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