On Ash Wednesday—what a long time ago—we heard those words. Dust, so fragile that any too direct contact with G-d can unmake us, scatter us. So G-d in the first reading errs on the side of caution to insure that that doesn’t happen on the slopes of Sinai.
The surprise: G-d’s project to transform us into creatures who can without fear and with joy “dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6). This takes some active participation on our part. (In passing, is Paul, who elsewhere (1 Corinthians 13:13) highlighted faith, hope, and love, making these the backbone of our participation in Colossians 1?) This takes a long series of surprising roles on G-d’s part: solicitous bouncer (first reading), sacrificial victim (second reading), bull in the china shop (with respect to our notions of ‘righteousness’; third reading).
Since we’re going to be reading Matthew for a good stretch, I wonder if the definition of ‘righteousness’ (dikaiosunē) is not at the heart of Jesus’ arguments with the religious leaders. The first story Matthew tells involves Joseph, whom Matthew describes as ‘righteous’ (dikaios), whose righteousness implies breaking his engagement with the now-pregnant Mary. An angel must intervene. Jesus (later): “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). And, of course, our third reading, where Jesus’ notion of righteousness upends John’s—and our—assumptions about who should be baptizing whom. So watch for it.
Athanasius: “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” From dust to divinity: how’s that for a road trip?