Saturday of Week 3 of Lent – First Reading

Commentary on Hosea 6:1-6

Both readings today are about our attitudes in relating to God in prayer. The passage from Hosea in the First Reading, used to be read every Good Friday. In it, “the northern kingdom (Ephraim) and the southern kingdom (Judah) are criticised for their shallow religion and trust in animal sacrifices. God wants a life of sincere service” (Vatican II Missal).

The prophet here composes a penitential prayer, and puts it into the mouths of God’s people, who are terrified by threats of punishment and of being abandoned by him. They exhort each other to return to Yahweh, but the return is only superficial – there is no real repentance.

“Let us return to Yahweh” is the call, but it lacks sincerity. The people complain that God has treated them roughly, but they are confident that he will heal them again.

He has struck us… after two days he will revive us, on the third day he will raise us up.

Some have seen in these words a reference to the resurrection of Christ, by which God’s healing will be brought back to his people.

He will come to us like a shower, like the rain of springtime to the earth.

Israel believed that, as surely as the seasonal rains fell and revived the earth, God’s favour would return and restore her, that his anger would come to an end.

The reason for God’s toughness is the superficiality of their commitment to him:

Their love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that quickly disappears.

God sees through the emptiness of their pious expressions.

What am I to do with you, Ephraim [the northern kingdom]? What am I to do with you Judah [the southern kingdom]? For your love is like morning mist, like the dew that quickly disappears.

They have used high-sounding words of repentance but their actions have not been in harmony with utterances.

This is why I have hacked them to pieces by means of the prophets, why I have killed them with the words from my mouth.

Not literally killed them, of course, but condemned their sinful behaviour.

God now spells it out clearly (and this sentence is quoted twice in Matthew’s gospel):

Faithful love is what pleases me, not sacrifice; knowledge of God, not burnt offerings.

What God has wanted from them is genuine loving actions, not empty rituals, however piously performed. Knowledge of God, not knowledge about God, but a knowledge implying a deep interpersonal relationship instead of ostentatious holocausts.

This is what we see criticised in today’s Gospel too. And, for us, it is not the Masses we attend, or the prayers we say that count most, but the genuine love of God shown by the way we live our lives and the way we relate to the people around us.

Our prayer must flow out of such a lifestyle and, at the same time, bring about such a way of living.

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