Wednesday of Week 14 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Hosea 10:1-3,7-8,12

Israel under Jeroboam II (793-753) “never had it so good”. The Northern Kingdom is called ‘Israel’ after the name of its ancestor and it is described as a “luxuriant vine”, which was a frequent metaphor for Israel.

But as we so often see happening in our own world, the good life does not result in moral living. Quite the opposite, in fact, is the norm. We have only to look around in our present time to see this. The prophet says:

The more his [i.e. Israel’s] fruit increased,
the more altars he built;
as his country improved,
he improved his pillars.

How true! The greater the prosperity, the higher the standard of living, the more idols are erected, things which people use all their energies in worshipping and pursuing.

But the people’s “heart is false”, their “hearts” are in the wrong place. Their heart is divided between worship of Yahweh and the Baals, or hesitating between Egypt and Assyria for their alliances. Israel formally calls on God, but it dishonours him through its worship of idols. But God:

…will break down their altars
and destroy their pillars.

The values of truth, love and justice do not belong in a world of unlimited materialism, consumerism, hedonism, uninhibited sexual indulgence, fashion, status, success, power…

In fact, in so far as they are denials of truth and love and justice, they will ultimately collapse because of their inbuilt contradictions because they are essentially opposed to people’s deepest aspirations, aspirations planted in our very being by our Creator.

Referring to the idol they have set up to worship, the prophet says:

For now they will say:
“We have no king,
for we do not fear the Lord,
and a king — what could he do for us?

The prophet’s question is rhetorical and requires no answer.

Little do they realise, in the midst of their prosperity, that the king of Samaria, namely the calf-idol, is doomed to disappear “like a chip on the face of the waters”. Similarly, the “high places of Aven”, that is, the idolatrous shrine at Bethel, the “sin of Israel”, will meet with destruction and “thistle shall grow up on their altars”, i.e. weeds will cover them up.

They will be terrible days indeed when the people will call out for the hills to cover them and fall on them. Cries of utter despair quoted by Jesus when speaking to the women who sympathised with him as he carried his cross to Calvary (and referring to the coming destruction of Jerusalem):

Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ (Luke 23:28-30)

The last verse in our reading today from Hosea is also cited in Revelation (6:16) in the context of the cosmic upheaval accompanying the coming of the ‘Day of the Lord’.

But there is a way out, if the people change their ways and begin to plant justice – a justice where all share equitably in the resources available – and reap the fruits that come from deeply loving and compassionate hearts. It is time now to plough new furrows in what has up to now been fallow and unproductive ground and go in search of God, becoming instead productive and fruitful. We remember what Jesus said would happen to the vine tree whose branches did not bear fruit.

It is for us to ask ourselves today to what extent we have been carried away by the affluence of our societies and the prevailing values (or lack thereof). Let us think about ‘ploughing a new field’ in our own lives and work to produce the fruit that matters, the fruit that lasts – fruit that not only we ourselves can enjoy, but which can be shared with others.

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