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  • Writer's pictureElpidio Pezzella

Covered With Red

Come now, and let us reason together,”Says the Lord,“Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow;Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.

(Isaiah 1:18 NKJV)

At this time of year, store shelves are filled with red items and clothing. People sport matching pajamas and sweaters for Christmas, while for the end of the year underwear is not to be missed. One follows traditions and customs in an almost mechanical way, without asking the meaning of what one is doing. In Eastern symbolism, in China, red is the color of good luck, linked to the ancient legend where red is used to drive away the Niàn, the beast that eats men. So in an imaginative way people have continued to use red to drive away bad spirits. Others would trace this tradition instead to the time of Emperor Octavian, when something red was worn on Roman New Year's Day to represent power, heart and health. So the color red would represent a source of energy, fire and passion, strength and even good fortune. So also for the Christian?

In addition to the namesake Red Sea, the Bible features one of the tabernacle covers in this color, heralding something spiritually important. In fact, later the prophet Isaiah paints in deep red the sin that God wants to make white as snow. The prophet is speaking to a people who in light of the sin they carried deserved to be totally destroyed by the Lord. Judah and Jerusalem had sinned against God repeatedly. Yet, right here we see God's love urging them, as it is written in later verses, to repent and return to Him. God does not want to punish them and appeals to their hearts, thus showing that He uniquely wants to bless them. They deserved for all intents and purposes and as the fruit of their actions a terrible punishment. Yet, God invites them to reflect on their conduct and repent in order to bless them, offering them full forgiveness. Unfortunately, our hostile attitude in some circumstances closes the sources of divine blessing.

In fact, the prophet Isaiah's message also said, "When you stretch out your hands, I hide my eyes from you; though you multiply prayers, I do not listen; your hands are full of blood" (1:15). God did not hear prayers and did not answer them because the hands that were raised to Him were soiled with sin, red sin. It might be surprising how the very people accustomed to approaching God forget that praying is of no use if their lives are not freed from sins. Love and fear are sincere when they produce real change in our lives. Such talk comes down to us, since in the New Testament we find the same proposed teaching from the apostle Paul: "II desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting" (1 Timothy 2:8). I think our already few and diminished prayers if passed through such a filter will become even fewer, or perhaps may change from requests to pleas for mercy like that of the publican on the threshold of the temple.

This very period of advent and waiting should favor us to rid our hearts of bad feelings such as hatred, resentment, grudge, envy, jealousy, and those thoughts that do not come from Above. Sometimes we set ourselves up as champions of truth and/or equitable stewards of justice, but then we find that we are very good at justifying and apologizing without repentance, failing to tolerate the faults of others, and forgiving wrongs done to us. Undaunted like "whitewashed sepulchers", we carry on as if nothing happened. If it may not be easy for some to forgive, it is even harder for others to forgive themselves. How difficult it remains to admit our mistake. Even in the face of evidence we recalcitate not out of fear of others' condemnation, but because perhaps it weighs on us to admit our shortcomings and consequently that we are not as infallible as we supposed. Sometimes the danger is on the opposite side, that is, in insisting that we are sinners and therefore continually in need of forgiveness, but only in not wanting to "straighten" our paths.

Let us seize the prophet's exhortation and allow ourselves to be cleansed. This washing in the New Testament is possible through the precious blood of Jesus, "in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:14), which cleanses us and makes us "children of God" and which the apostle calls "precious" (1 Peter 1:19). To the red of sin will be better the red of Christ's blood. His sacrifice urges us to guard ourselves from the bonds of self-love and to open our existence wide to the life-giving breath of forgiveness capable of making us new creatures. Let us embark on that journey of humility that involves the recognition of our situation and the consequent need for God's forgiveness. Today we have the opportunity not to torment ourselves with the remembrance of our sins and rejoice in the sacrifice that erased them. Among the sayings of the Desert Fathers is that of a soldier who one day asked an elder if God grants forgiveness to sinners. The elder replied, "Tell me, dearest one, if your cloak is torn, do you throw it away?" The soldier replied, "No, I accommodate it and continue to use it". The elder concluded, "If you take care of your cloak, will not God be merciful toward His own image?"


Weekly Bible Reading

Plan #51

December 12, Hosea 9-11; Revelation 3

December 12, Hosea 12-14; Revelation 4

December 14, Joel; Revelation 5

December 15, Amos 1-3; Revelation 6

December 16, Amos 4-6; Revelation 7

December 17, Amos 7-9; Revelation 8

December 18, Obadiah; Revelation 9

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