Every so often I come across a verse in the bible which is deeply disturbing. Isaiah 64:6 is one of those.
Let’s have a look at a number of English translations of this verse courtesy of Bible Hub.
New International Version
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
New Living Translation
We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.
English Standard Version
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
King James Bible
But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
And we are all become as one unclean, and all our justices as the rag of a menstruous woman: and we have all fallen as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
Jerusalem Bible We are all like men unclean, all that integrity of ours like filthy clothing. We have all withered like leaves and our sin blew us away like the wind.
Now, when I go to confession and make an examination of conscience I am concentrating on the things I have done wrong, my sins; bad thoughts, bad words, bad actions.
According to this verse I should also say I am sorry for the good that I do and that runs contrary to everything I have been taught right back to when I was a child when I was encouraged to be “good”.
What exactly is the problem with being good and doing good? After all we want to do this and be this rather than be bad.
So here’s my take on it, for what it’s worth, and I’ll stick to talking in the first person so as not to make any assumptions about the reader.
Because of the good I have done a number of things have happened;
People have patted me on the back and said what a fine fellow I was.
I may have patted myself on the back and thought I was a fine fellow as well. That is to say that I have believed my own press.
I may have acquired a status in society, because of the good I have done, which I didn’t truly deserve.
All my good deeds are tainted with self. (There is a solution to this which I will cover in a footnote at the end.)
For Scripture says;
All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1 John 1:8
A good illustration of this is found in Luke 18: 9-14;
He (Jesus) spoke the following parable to some people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else, ‘Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, “I thank you God, that I am not grasping , unjust, adulterous like the rest of mankind, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get.” The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, “God be merciful to me, a sinner”. This man, I tell you, went home again at rights with God; the other did not. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the man who humbles himself will be exalted.
Over the years every time this reading crops up we see the pompous, arrogant, self-righteousness of the Pharisee and identify with the humility of the tax collector. But being the Pharisee, who believes his own press, is an easy trap to fall into.
So this Easter we might say to the Lord that we apologise for the good that we have done, the status we have gained, and the times when we were like the Pharisee and forgot about the tax collector.
I’m not necessarily saying we should incorporate this into our confession in the sacrament of reconciliation. If we do the poor priest will never get out of the box and it is possible to beat ourselves up a little too much. It’s just something to bear in mind and rejoice we have a great Saviour who;
Died for us while we were yet sinners. (my paraphrase)
Romans 5:8 – what proves that God loves us is that Christ died for us while we were still sinners.
Useful Website – Bible Hub
If you search a verse using this website you will get a number of different translations of that verse. Then you can look at the original Hebrew or Greek for that verse and without being able to read either language you can access a lexicon (Strong’s) to get a fuller meaning in English. It’s never been easier to do an in-depth bible study.
Footnote – The Resolution of the Problem of Self and Good Deeds
At the back of Church (Holy Souls) I found this booklet.
On pages 8 and 9 of this book there are two Marian prayers of Louis De Montfort which get over the problem of self and good deeds.
Prayer 1 – “I, (name), a faithless sinner, renew and ratify today in thy hands the vows of my Baptism; I renounce forever Satan, his pomps and works; and I give myself entirely to Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Wisdom, to carry my cross after Him all the days of my life, and to be more faithful to Him than I have ever been before.”
Prayer 2 – “In the presence of all the heavenly court, I choose you this day for my Mother and Queen. I deliver and consecrate to you, as your slave, my body and soul, my goods, both interior and exterior, and even the value of all my good actions, past, present, and future; leaving to you the entire and full right of disposing of me, and all that belongs to me, without exception, according to your good pleasure, for the greater glory of God, in time and eternity.”
There is also this note about De Montfort’s consecration to Our Blessed Lady;
“This devotion consists, then, in giving ourselves entirely to Our Lady, in order to belong entirely to Jesus through her. We must give her (1) our body, with all its senses and its members; (2) our soul, with all its powers; (3) our exterior goods of fortune, whether present or to come; (4) our interior and spiritual goods, which are our merits and our virtues, and our good works, past, present, and future.”
The problem of self is dealt with if the “good works” no longer belong to you.
I have to admit to often struggling with things Marian, probably because of many years of association with non-Catholic Christians, but I am arriving at a better understanding of what is meant here. Although the prayers are essentially Marian, the purpose is to draw nearer to Christ. When we come to the foot of the cross and see what our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us, who do we find there? – Our Blessed Lady.
So, come to the cross this Easter;
If you are reading this and not a Catholic and don’t understand the whole Marian thing you could just address this prayer, the Totus Tuus prayer of St Louis de Montfort, to Jesus Christ, our Lord.
‘I am totally yours and all I have is yours.’