What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of he-goats.
Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes;
cease to do evil, learn to do good;
seek justice, correct oppression;
defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.
Isaiah 1: 11, 16-17
Mark this, then, you who forget God,
lest I rend, and there be none to deliver!
He who brings thanksgiving as his sacrifice honors me;
to him who orders his way aright
I will show the salvation of God!
Psalm 50 : 22-23
. . . . . .
Somehow, until today, I had not connected the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel with Elijah’s fantastic defeat of the prophets of Ba’al. But, of course, that was Mount Carmel. I owe the link to the Office of Readings for today: the readings for feast days are always rich and instructive. Occasionally, as was the case today, there is also overlap with the Mass readings. Psalm 50  occurs in both (though only in abbreviated form in the Mass), weaving together Elijah’s famous duel with the opening gambit of the book of Isaiah.
I must admit that I overlook, sometimes, the scolding and threatening verses in the Psalms and the prophets. My reading of the Lord’s victory at Mount Carmel focuses on God’s prevenient grace; God is a God who rushes to save, who waits for the prodigal son and runs out to meet him; God is a God who is ‘abounding in steadfast love.’ We are called not only to rely on God’s love, however, but to display it, to share it, to live it constantly and fully, always and everywhere. That obligates us, as Isaiah reminds us, to the powerless and all those in need. It also demands that we forgive, as the Lord’s prayer (and Matthew 18) show so clearly. Not only that, though. God’s love draws us further up and further in, as CS Lewis described it, and the only way forward is in holiness: ‘to [the one] who orders [her] way aright I will show the salvation of God.’
To do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God–so simple, all-inclusive, and difficult. It really does require our attention all the time: love, forgiveness, thanksgiving, humility and discernment…to see where the Lord is leading, to respond to our neighbors (spouses, children, colleagues, students, teachers, friends) in love and humility, to forgive when it hurts, and to thank God anyway. Not an easy task, and one at which we are all bound to fail at one time or another. (Ok, so I admit I fail often.)
That’s why we depend on grace: for the strength to carry on, and to raise us up when we have fallen.