Saturday of Week 3 of Lent – First Reading

Commentary on Hosea 5:15 – 6:6

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. As is described in the Vatican II Missal:

“…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”.

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 God. They exhort each other to return to Yahweh, but the return is only superficial – there is no real repentance.

“Come, let us return to the Lord” 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 down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him.

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 the showers,
like the spring rains that water 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 goes away early.

God sees through the emptiness of their pious expressions:

What shall I do with you, O Ephraim [the northern kingdom]?
What shall I do with you, O Judah
[the southern kingdom]? Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes away early.

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

Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets;
I have killed them by the words of my mouth,
and my judgment goes forth as the light.

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):

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than 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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