Hosea 6, 3-6
- There are words of assurance in this reading. The people
await the Lord with conviction: As certain as the dawn is his coming. My hope in God gives me the certainty I need to echo this prayer of nearly three millennia ago.
- Other gentler words evoke springtime: Like the rain, like spring rain that waters the earth. This is the way God works in our soul, “a lingering-out sweet skill” of
which Gerard Manley Hopkins spoke. That is how I have come to know God as well,
and I will speak softly here.
- Then, as the reminders of spring continue, I hear a sudden change of tone: What can I do with you? Your piety is like a morning cloud. Are these two different prophecies set side by side?
Or do they really form the same prophecy, in which God confronts our words of easy hope with the impatience of a long-suffering
teacher? Well, they are joined today, and that settles it for me.
- What can I do with you?
The prophet speaks it twice, for the kingdoms of Israel (Ephraim) and Judah.
I say it the first time in a kind of unpleasant surprise, and the second in a disappointed realization that the people
will take a very long time to know the Lord.
And the soft and penetrating spring rain is transformed into dew that early passes away.
- After that come some earnest words about God that only a prophet could mean: I slew them by the
words of my mouth. I may say them in a decisive and final way – because
God’s word is decisive and final –without tones of vengefulness.
- The climax comes in the final sentence: I desire love, not
sacrifice. Let these words ring in our minds even after they are repeated
in today’s Gospel reading.
- Message for our assembly: The God we long to know does not come
in our image and likeness. We must continue to strive to know the Lord.
- I will challenge myself: To challenge my listeners to imitate God,
and to make of our liturgy today a demonstration of their love for each other. Is
our own love like abundant rain or like surface dew? What can I do to bring out
the crucial difference?
Romans 4, 18-25
- I am reading a homily about the faith of Abraham, so I hearken back to Genesis.
Actually I start in the middle of the homily, and I gaze on my listeners as I say Hoping against hope. Many will return my gaze knowing what the apostle is talking about.
- There are some negative contrasts: He did not weaken in faith, he did not doubt. And he had every reason to doubt! He was almost a hundred years old.
- I also hear positive actions: He grew strong in faith, giving glory, fully convinced
that what God had promised he was also able to do. Do you hear a hymn in the background? I hear a psalm: Our
help is in the name of the Lord.
- Finally, as in all good homilies, I make the connection between the days of old and ourselves. The apostle himself wrote: It was written also for us, to whom
it will be credited. And I should
point out clearly what our church is supposed to do: Believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.
- Climax: If Abraham’s story emerges from basso profundo whispers of
ancient buried patriarchs into our assembly today, that same assembly should ring with my strong final affirmation of Jesus,
who was raised for our justification. Our
journey, like Abraham’s, is one of life and, with Jesus, resurrection.
- The message for our assembly: Our commitment of faith leads us in directions we do not understand or
appreciate. But that is where God invites us to go, and that is where we will
- I will challenge myself: To make Abraham’s journey of faith a journey for us all.
Gospel. Matthew 9, 9-13
- We have heard this story so many times that we have forgotten the scandalous edge to it. But happy and raucous gatherings like the one we are hearing about, with tax collectors and sinners,
are what got Jesus in trouble.
- I hear two voices, two different moral appeals, in this passage.
One group of persons condemns the sin and the sinners together. That group
guards the moral standards of the nation, keeping its distance and judging the offenders.
If I were a member of this group, I would have my mind made up, and I probably would speak accusingly: Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?
- And then I hear the words of Jesus. Suppose for a moment
that I was truly scandalized because he was at table at Matthew’s house.
But Jesus does not ask why I am scandalized. He tries to convince me. He sees me as
a person who needs to stop imposing my biases on others, to stop treating their actions as mere public spectacles and an affront
to my own values.
- He replies: Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. How would I hear this? Jesus tries to
engage me with an honest defense of his mission to call sinners. As I read the words to the church I remember the communion prayer in the Eastern rite liturgy: “Jesus,
come into the world to save sinners -- of whom I am the greatest.”
- Here’s what I’m getting at. When Jesus first said these words,
before they became part of the ‘Q Document,’ they would have sounded shocking and scandalous to some people. But after we have assimilated them we have transformed them into a slogan that we
no longer take seriously. After all, don’t we eat with family and friends,
with respectable people? I think the words of Jesus should sound counter-cultural,
and I will make them sound that way.
- Climax: It is the same stark witness to God’s designs that we heard from Hosea: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. How would it sound at our mass today: “deeds of love, not liturgies?” Can I make it sound that way? Does some
soul in here need a shaking?
- Message for our assembly: Do we consider ourselves as part of the
righteous or as sinners?
- I will challenge myself: To reveal the same edge of controversy in my words as I tell this story, to help to demonstrate
why Jesus was viewed with suspicion by the establishment of his day, and why he still is by the establishment in our own day.