The Monastery of the Temptation, above Jericho

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Woe to you!

The Reading for the second Wednesday in Great Lent, from the Prophecy of Isaiah includes the following woes (Isaiah 5:8ff)

8 Woe to those who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is no more room, and you are made to dwell alone in the midst of the land. 9 The LORD of hosts has sworn in my hearing: “Surely many houses shall be desolate, large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant. 10 For ten acres of vineyard shall yield but one bath, and a homer of seed shall yield but an ephah.”

11 Woe to those who rise early in the morning, that they may run after strong drink, who tarry late into the evening till wine inflames them! 12 They have lyre and harp, timbrel and flute and wine at their feasts; but they do not regard the deeds of the LORD, or see the work of his hands. 13 Therefore my people go into exile for want of knowledge; their honored men are dying of hunger, and their multitude is parched with thirst. 14 Therefore Sheol has enlarged its appetite and opened its mouth beyond measure, and the nobility of Jerusalem and her multitude go down, her throng and he who exults in her. 15 Man is bowed down, and men are brought low, and the eyes of the haughty are humbled. 16 But the LORD of hosts is exalted in justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness. 17 Then shall the lambs graze as in their pasture, fatlings and kids shall feed among the ruins.

18 Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of falsehood, who draw sin as with cart ropes, 19 who say: “Let him make haste, let him speed his work that we may see it; let the purpose of the Holy One of Israel draw near, and let it come, that we may know it!”

20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!

22 Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink, 23 who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right!

24 Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble, and as dry grass sinks down in the flame, so their root will be as rottenness, and their blossom go up like dust; for they have rejected the law of the LORD of hosts, and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.

These “woes” speak directly as a judgment against Israel, the household of God. We, the Church, the New Israel, would do well not to point fingers, saying, “Yeah! That’s right! Woe to those who are always developing their own land or expanding their own financial borders!” “Yeah! Woe to those drunkards, those party-ers!” “Yeah! Woes to those are slick with the tongue!”

The words of judgment are against *us*, not against others. How have I joined house to house if not actually? How have I built bigger barns, if not actually? Well, if not in the least by not sharing what I do have with the needy and by not supplying the poor with food, or by simply omitting any consideration of “the least of these” in my life.

How have I been a drunkard or reveler, if not actually? How about addiction to caffeine? Overindulgence in food? Replacing Saturday evening Vespers and preparations for the Sunday Liturgy with cookouts, feasts, and parties?

How have I called evil good, and good evil, if not actually? How about by making excuses for “little things” that “everyone does”—pirating music or movies? How about by neglect or omission in not bearing witness to the truth when someone else is exchanging bitter for sweet or sweet for bitter?

The Lenten season demands that we “see our own sins and not judge our brother”. With that in mind, let’s read the *woes* of Isaiah 5 as written directly to each of us, and confess according, changing our words and thoughts and actions by God’s grace without further ado.

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