Tuesday of the Thirteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I want to feel bad for Lot’s wife in today’s first reading.  Not only is she not even called by name in the entire reading, but she gets turned into a pillar of salt just for a backward glance.  But, sad as it is, this is the whole point of the reading, and it’s not like they weren’t warned – the angel was very clear: “Flee for your life!  Don’t look back or stop anywhere on the Plain.  Get off to the hills at once, or you will be swept away.”  So in some ways, she deserved what she got.  But I think the reading is getting at something a little deeper here than a mere glance over one’s shoulder.

Indeed the real issue is, what did that looking back mean?  Sodom and Gomorrah were being destroyed for their wanton evil.  They may have once been wonderful cities, but they had become centers of every kind of evil and debased action.  And this evil was so pervasive that no other corrective action other than total destruction of the cities would do.  In yesterday’s first reading, we heard the famous reading about Abraham and God bargaining to save those cities.  At the end of it all, God agrees, at Abraham’s urging, not to destroy the place if just ten righteous people could be found there.  Obviously the righteous numbered less than ten, amounting to just Lot, his wife, and his two daughters.  That’s a pretty sad indictment of that region.

But, so pervasive was the evil of that place, that it infected even Lot’s wife, who didn’t just glance back to see if she dropped something.  No, the backward glance was more likely sorrow for what she left behind; she was not untainted by the scandal of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The lesson is that when God leads us forward, we cannot debase ourselves to look back.  The Psalmist has it right today, as always, when he says, “For your mercy is before my eyes, and I walk in your truth.”  Your mercy is before my eyes, so I need to look forward, not back.  Looking backward leads us to our old sinful ways; looking forward is what leads us to our God.  So if God is giving us the chance to move forward, as he did for Lot and his wife and his daughters, then we can do no less than fix our eyes on the path ahead, cutting our ties with everything that is behind us.

Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent

Today’s readings

The book of Daniel the Prophet is one of my favorite books of Scripture. If you haven’t read that book, that would be a great one to take in during Lent. It won’t take terribly long, but be sure you read it from a Catholic edition of the Bible because other editions won’t contain the whole thing.

The story goes that Azariah, Hannaniah and Mishael were in the king’s court along with Daniel. They had been well-educated and cared for, and in turn advised the king on matters of wisdom and knowledge. They were better at doing this than anyone in the king’s court, except for one thing. The king, who worshiped idols, had crafted an idol that each person in the kingdom was to bow down and worship several times a day. But Azariah, Hannaniah and Mishael were good Jews and would only worship God alone. So they were bound up and cast into the fiery furnace, to their certain demise.

Now you may know this as the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, which were the names the king gave them when they entered his service. If you know the story, then you know the flames did not harm them, and an angel appeared in the furnace to protect them. During that time, Azariah prayed the beautiful prayer we have in our first reading. He acknowledges that his people have been sinful, but prays that God would deliver them because the people currently have no prophet or anyone who could lead them. God’s deliverance of Azariah, Hannaniah and Mishael from the fiery furnace is a symbol of God’s planned deliverance of the people from their captivity, which in turn is a symbol of God’s deliverance, through Jesus Christ, from our captivity to sin.

We forgiven and delivered people have to be people of forgiveness, though, as we hear in today’s Gospel. Our own redemption is never complete until we untie the others in our lives whose sins or offenses against us we have bound up. Until we forgive from our hearts, we will never really be free from the bondage of sin. That doesn’t mean we have to be doormats and take abuse from other people. It just means that we let go of the hurt and forgive as we have been forgiven.

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