Friday of Week 14 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Hosea 14:2-10

Our last reading from Hosea is taken from the final verses of the book. It is a call for repentance and reconciliation of Israel with its God. In return, Yahweh makes his promises. The prophecy ends on a note of hope – already heard in some of the passages we read earlier in the week. It is a liturgical prayer expressing sincere repentance, corresponding to Hosea 6:1-6 (which we did not read), and is followed by a firm promise of God’s blessing. It is now time for Israel to return to its God for it has collapsed under the weight of its guilt.

Hosea says:

Take words with you
and return to the Lord.

Not empty words, but words full of meaning and sincerity, words begging for forgiveness, words of true repentance. They will ask for their sins to be set aside and they will go back to offering sacrifices to the one, true God. They will pray:

Take away all guilt;
accept that which is good,
and we will offer
the fruit of our lips…

As well, they will no longer place their trust in Assyria nor “ride upon horses” – namely, by making expedient treaties with countries like Egypt, which can do little for them against the might of Assyria. No longer will they address the words “Our God” to something which they have made themselves. They will instead put their trust in Yahweh, for in him “the orphan finds mercy”. By alienating himself, Israel, as Yahweh’s son, had made himself an orphan.

Yahweh will extend his love “freely” to Israel, without any force or compulsion, for his anger has now been turned away from his wayward son, in spite of the way he has behaved. Without their God, what are the people but pure orphans? Yahweh, we might say, was turning the other cheek, as Jesus, his Son, will later tell us to do.

In a lovely phrase Yahweh “will be like the dew to Israel”, not in the sense of something transitory but as something cool and refreshing, giving life to plants so that Israel “shall blossom like the lily”.

In an image unique in the Old Testament, Hosea compares his people to a tree, to the great Lebanon cedar and the splendid olive tree. A reformed Israel will have the fragrance of the cedar. Then, Ephraim-Israel will have no more to do with idols. He will have been punished for his wrongdoing but prosperity is returning.

Again, in another tree simile:

I am like an evergreen cypress;
your fruit comes from me.

The evergreen cypress was seen as a symbol of life…words very similar to those spoken by Jesus to his disciples when he compared himself to the vine (see John 15:1-7) and enabling its branches to bear fruit.

With the final verse of the book, our reading ends with a reflection which is probably a later addition in the style of the Wisdom literature, but no less valuable for all that:

For the ways of the Lord are right,
and the upright walk in them,
but transgressors stumble in them.

A thought worth reflecting on. For the just ways of the Lord are the ways to life, the only ways to real life. It was a lesson that Israel had to learn at a high price. Later, Jesus, the Word of God, will say:

I am the way and the truth and the life. (John 14:6)

But to the sinner, the call of God, of Jesus and the Gospel is a serious stumbling block. It gets in the way of all he or she longs to have and do. It is why so often there are people who want to rid the world of God, of Jesus and the Gospel and also of those who are trying to build their lives on these truths.

Do we experience our Christian faith as a real liberation and source of joy, or is it something that seems to get in the way of what we want?

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