‘You have been told, O man, what is good and what Yahweh requires of you: to do justice, to love mercy and walk humbly with your God’. (Micah 6, 8 )
Today, Ash Wednesday, the Holy Catholic Church begins Her forty-day journey in preparation for the victorious resurrection of Her Lord, our Lord. Lent is a season of preparation, a journey of purification and a time for reflection.
In repentance and penance, the faithful are called upon to reflect on the forty-day fast of the Lord before His public ministry which brought Him to the pinnacle of the mission- the crucifixion.
To prepare is to cleanse ourselves, in spirit and in truth, for us to become worthy followers of the Risen Lord. This is the message of Lent— self-sacrifice. Many of us, Catholics, will observe the call for fasting and abstinence. These are external signs and symbols. Is this all that God wants us to do?
Justice: Justice is the main theme of prophet Amos’ message. In his time, the kingdom of Israel seems to be a very prosperous and rich nation. It is an affluent society where there was an increasing wealth in the society. But there is one sin that the society has been committing. As the society has become more affluent, small pieces of properties have been disappearing. While these properties are being lost, the wealth had been landing on the lap of very few rich people. While the wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few, the number of poor people was rapidly increasing. The luxurious lifestyle of the few rich was an insult to the destitute and poor. And this sin of injustice was seen by Yahweh. His indictments were sharp and the injustice is unfathomable. Repeatedly it is said that the sin was committed not only once but thrice or more. And Yahweh roars from Zion, His voice thunders from Jerusalem. He sends Amos to condemn this injustice. Amos is the prophet of social justice.
Look at our society today. Several days ago, there was a lot of noise about a few who have taken the largest chunk of what could have been for the people. The stories of corruption angered us because we felt that we had been robbed. The uprisings in other shores are brought about by the people fed up with injustice and misrule. In the book of Amos, kings Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam of Israel, are indicted of great injustices and neglect. Micah reminds us that injustice is anathema to what Yahweh wants of us.
Mercy: The prophet Hosea best explains this. Hosea was told by God to take for her wife Gomer, a whore who never loved him. He came down throughout history as the prophet ‘who was deceived by his wife whom he never stopped loving.’ The personal life of Hosea was a mirror of the people of Israel in his time. Israel had become materialistic and idolatrous. Israel had been enticed by the riches of its society that they forgot Yahweh. Hosea experienced what Yahweh experienced— being abandoned by the beloved because of her pursuit of material things. As Hosea showed, Yahweh was the one always looking for the way to win Israel back. Like Yahweh, Hosea had to love and continue to do so, an unfaithful and fickle-minded wife.
We are an unfaithful lot. Despite God’s fidelity, we still look for what can satisfy our earthly ambitions and lose sight of His kingdom. We easily fall into the trap of infidelity. We are a chaotic people because we turned away our sight from the Lord who taught us to love and be faithful in love. Hosea was preaching on during a very turbulent time. It was a two decade of decadence that eventually led to Samaria being captive and its inhabitants having deported.
Humility: Israel’s prosperity (which was denounced by Amos because of its characteristic injustice) was short-lived. With the capture of Samaria, the capital of Israel, the once great kingdom of David had been reduced to a very small and irrelevant nation. This implied that Israel was no different from its neighbors- small kingdoms which are fighting for survival in the midst of powerful neighbors. In its time of prosperity, Israel lived as Yahweh’s chosen people. But when they gradually was losing its status, it also began to lose its own sense and it was no different from its pagan neighbors. Israel’s downfall was abrupt and it was fast. This is what the prophet Isaiah talks about. He was living among a people who have lost its prosperity, conquered by its neighbors, and basically who have lost its identity as a chosen and favored people.
In his message, Isaiah was telling the people that it was their losing sight of Yahweh that caused their downfall. Their breach of bond with Yahweh had brought them unspeakable anguish. However, with this comes the message that if only the people will turn away from their wicked ways will Yahweh look kindly once again on them. The people of Israel had gone astray. Isaiah’s message was clear— return to the Yahweh, trust Him and walk with Him. Israel must hold on the promise of the faithful God. God’s promise was made to David and his descendants. Yahweh shall never give up on this promise, if only the people shall return to Him with humility.
This season of Lent, it is well to remind ourselves of our real identity. We have been lost. We have rejected the love of God. We have trusted on our human strength and intelligence. We wrestle with God and think that we can dictate the terms of our own lives and that of others. Let us go back to Micah’s message— justice, love, humility.
In closing let us turn to the prophet Joel with this message: ‘… Yet even now, return to me with all your heart, with fasting weeping and mourning. Rend your heart, not your garment. Return to Yahweh, your God- gracious and compassionate’ (Joel 2, 12-13a).
Lord, in this season of repentance and penance, let me look at you once more and follow your way. That in my dealings with other people, I may be guided by what you ask of me: to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God. Amen.