The First Reading is from the Book of Leviticus. In this brief passage, the writer reminds his fellow Israelites of their call to live a holy life. This is the command given to us by God through Moses: “Be holy, for I the Lord, your God, am holy.” A life of holiness is manifested through acts of love, mercy and kindness, particularly towards those who have hurt us. It also shows us the way to share in God’s holiness: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
The First Reading comes from the Book of Sirach. In today’s verses, Sirach instructs the people of Israel to trust in God and keep his commandments, for they will be saved by doing so. Before man are life and death, good and evil, Sirach says, whichever he chooses shall be given him. Our salvation, and life itself, are certainly blessings from God. Choosing to follow the ways of the Lord leads to these blessings. In other words, obedience to God’s law as the road that leads to life, and rejection of his commandments as the way that leads to death.
In the First Reading from the prophet Isaiah, the people of Israel who had been taken into exile have just returned. Their land is devastated, and their religious life is in chaos. To please God, they need to practice a religious piety that leads them “to share their bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and homeless, clothe the naked.” They also need to “remove from their midst false accusations and malicious speech.” These are all concrete ways in which we flavor the earth with God’s goodness and allow the light of God to shine through us.
The First Reading is from the Prophet Malachi. In this passage, we hear a warning that a special messenger will come from God with great power and He will “purify the sons of Levi” with His message and His dedication and “then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem will please the Lord.” Malachi speaks about a “messenger” who will come to prepare a way for the Lord, who will in turn cleanse his Temple of sinful practices so that worthy worship can once again be offered. Christians saw the messenger as John the Baptist who prepared the way for Jesus and who in time would cleanse the Temple of beggars and sellers.