The image of God that we see (hear) in the words of Hosea today are decidedly tender. Hosea delivers a message to the children of Israel that depicts God as a loving parent who tenderly embraces a little child. Listening to these words is sure to evoke all sorts of emotions among parents.
As a priest, I will never know the parental emotions. At the same time, I am fortunate to have had a loving mother. My father died was I was very young, only six years of age. However, the faint memories I have of him are also those of a loving and doting parent. The good thing about the image of God that we hear today is that it can be appreciated from both sides – both from the perspective of a parent as well as that of a child.
There is much in the Hebrew Scriptures that portrays God as a judge, as a vengeful and jealous God. I think it is part of our human nature to view God in this fashion simply because we have too often been vengeful and jealous ourselves. We know how we would react or have reacted when we have been betrayed or abandoned by a loved one. We know how society in general reacts when someone is caught in acts of abuse. I live in Cicero, a suburb of Chicago. One would have to be blind and deaf not to realize that at the present time Chicago has been stylized as the “murder capital of the world.” All too often the killings that fill our headlines are motivated by vengeance. Too often, innocent victims have been caught in the crossfire between rival gangs. Society calls out for justice which is all too often really vengeance. Because our humanity is caught in the vicious cycle of war and murder and mayhem, it is so very easy to think of God in these terms.
However, if we focus our sight on the person of Jesus, the very personification of God’s love for us, then the words that we hear in Hosea today make much more sense: “Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, who took them in my arms; but they did not know that I cared for them. I drew them with human cords, with bands of love; I fostered them like those who raise an infant to their cheeks; I bent down to feed them” (Hosea 11:3-4). Jesus touched the lives of many people while he walked among us. The stories that have been handed down through the ages about him have been stories of love, of embrace, or tenderness.
When Jesus sent the Twelve to preach the Good News, he asked them to carry his tender love for us with them wherever they went. Unfortunately, the apostles and we (their descendants) are not divine but human. Our challenge is to let the tenderness of God shine through our actions and to forsake the human emotions of vengeance and jealousy. If we are to be representatives of the Gospel, then we must be representatives of the tenderness of which Hosea speaks today.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator