Lectionary Readings for Nov. 3. Isaiah 1:10-22, Ps 32:1-7, 2 Thess. 1:1-4, 11-12, Luke 19:1-10
The passages for November 3 carry a strong theme of forgiveness, but this isn't cheap forgiveness. It's not enough to say "I'm sorry." This is forgiveness after long struggles. The psalmist says: "when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was upon me." He is being eaten from the inside out by guilt. If the psalmist is indeed David, he's got a lot to confess. He's responsible for many deaths and there's the Bathsheba situation-wrong on so many different levels. The surprising thing is that for a long time David resists, he stays quiet, he does everything in his power to keep from confessing. Finally, he lets go of his feelings of self-importance and opens up to God, and that's when he is at peace. (I always marvel that this deeply flawed, and in many ways terrible, man was "after God's own heart. David must have possessed an incredible ability to self-reflect, realize his sin and actually hand himself over to God.)
Isaiah rails against meaningless offerings that people use to 'buy' cheap forgiveness. God clearly does not want their gold or incense or animals because the people are not sincerely offering their lives. The prophet addresses his audience as "rulers of Sodom and Gomorrah", peoples notorious for ignoring justice and the rights of the poor (not primarily for sexual practices as the stereotype goes!) Isaiah's people are going through all the outward motions of faith, assuming that is all that is required. It is cheap forgiveness if all it takes is an appearance/performance at the temple. What is required is much harder. "Stop doing wrong, learn to do right. Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow." v. 17
Ps 32 and Isaiah 1, when read with the story of Zacchaeus, shine a light onto verses 8-10. This is where Zacchaeus"confesses" with his actions. He gives half of his possessions to the poor and he pays back, with 400% interest, the people he has cheated. Jesus tells the crowd, (many of whom do all the right things according to their religious laws) that this tax collector has received salvation. It certainly didn't come cheap!
Showing up for services, and dropping money into an offering plate, are meaningless things if there is no sincere confession, like David's, or no action for others like Isaiah asks for and Zacchaeus does. These stories of forgiveness are stories of a lived faith, they challenge us to think about what it is we are doing to"confess with our actions!"