The first reading refers to sins like scarlet and crimson red. When these two colors are contrasted with white, like snow or wool, they stand out most dramatically. Most people have heard of Sodom and Gomorrah in Old Testament. While the book of Genesis describes the sins of the two cities to have been sexual in nature, Ezekiel suggests it was more than that. And if we read carefully the account in Genesis where Abraham is asking how few people it would take for God to save the city, and we learn that for the sake of ten righteous people God would save the cities, it had gotten pretty bad there indeed.
So what does the bible say about these two cities? God has heard the outcry from the city and sends angels to investigate just what was going on. While Genesis suggests sexual immorality of the two cities was the cause for Abraham and Lot (and their families) to leave, Ezekiel 16:49 says this: “They did not give any help to the poor and needy.” And that there is some ambiguity about things makes this reading much more important for all of us. None of can consider our sins to be any less red than the sins of the princes of Sodom and Gomorrah.
And if we can acknowledge our sinfulness, then we can also receive the promise of God too. Isaiah says, “Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; Though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool.” We can receive the forgiveness of God through his mercy. And Lent is such a time for this to happen. There is no sin too big for God to forgive. And God always stands ready to forgive those who have contrition for their sins and a desire to repent.
Jesus reminds us in the gospel that it is not always easy for us since our leaders sometimes let us down by their bad examples. “Do as I say, not as I do” seems to be good advice from Jesus for the Pharisees. He tells the people to follow the teachings of the leaders, but not their example. Our focus should always be on seeking a deeper relationship with Jesus.
The sin of the religious leaders in Jesus’ day was their inability to help the people they led in growing closer to God. In fact, they did just the opposite. We are told they “tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders.” Rather than growing holy in the eyes of God, they are more concerned with being recognized because of their attempts at self-importance. “They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues.” All of these recognitions have become more important than their awesome responsibilities in terms of living a life of holiness. (By the way, phylacteries were little boxes worn on the forehead or around the wrist carrying a tiny piece of paper inside that had the words of Deuteronomy 6:4. “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength.”
But again, this is not just to focus on the bad examples of leaders, even as significant as they may be. What is our example? Do we set a good example of what it means to be a Christian? Do we encourage people by the witness of our lives to want the deep relationship they see witnessed in the way we live? Or is it the case that something else is at work here? Today take a moment to ask God to help you with living authentically the Christian life. Ask God to strengthen your prayer life. Ask God to give you the wisdom needed to help others to grow in their relationship with Jesus. Ask God to help you to become more generous in helping those in need. Ask God to give you the grace to know what you need to fast from in your life. If you find yourselves doing these things, prayer, fasting and almsgiving, you will find yourself on the right track with God.