By now, we are all very much aware that we are in the midst of a Jubilee Year of Mercy. The message has been promulgated far and wide. The Holy Father has been using his time to accentuate the needs for mercy in our lives and in our world. Every group pilgrimage to Rome has been invited to experience the Jubilee Year of Mercy in various and frequent events and prayer services and audiences.
Hosea’s words for today’s liturgy fit right into the theme of our Jubilee Year. The Holy Father has been reminding us that God never tires of being merciful, that it is we who tire of asking for mercy. Remember that as you read these words: “I will heal their apostasy, I will love them freely; for my anger is turned away from them. I will be like the dew for Israel: he will blossom like the lily; he will strike root like the Lebanon cedar, and his shoots will go forth. His splendor will be like the olive tree and his fragrance like Lebanon cedar. Again they will live in his shade; they will raise grain, they will blossom like the vine, and his renown will be like the wine of Lebanon” (Hosea 14:5-8).
Admittedly, the use of so many different pronouns in this passage (I, he, his, they), make the passage somewhat confusing. God is speaking and is, therefore, the “I” in this passage. “He,” and “His,” refer to Israel. “They” refers to the children of Israel.
The passage also reveals the sin of which Israel and the children of Israel are guilty. “Ephraim! What more have I to do with idols? I have humbled him, but I will take note of him. I am like a verdant cypress tree. From me fruit will be found for you!” (Hosea 14:9). The people of Israel have violated the first of the Ten Commandments. They have been worshiping other gods.
Perhaps this may not strike us as forcefully as it would have the Israelites. We live in the midst of so much violence, so much corruption, so much promiscuity, so much greed and so much lying that idolatry may not seem like that much of a bid deal to us. Yet it would be hard to discount the fact that the primary sin of which Israel’s prophets speak is that of idolatry. They live in a land that is surrounded by people who worship other gods. We know the names of some of these gods: Baal, Astarte, etc. They are represented by various figures and forces of nature. Some worship the sun god. Others worship gods that are represented by animal figures such as cats and dogs. The pantheon of pagan gods and goddesses is replete with so many figures that it would be impossible to name them all. Yet when the people of Israel entered into the covenant of Sinai with the God who is named “I AM,” the first provision was that they would never worship another god. The first infraction of that commandment happened while the Israelites were still encamped at the base of Mt. Sinai when Aaron made an idol of a golden calf, one of the gods of Egypt.
Though we don’t worship idols of stone or precious metals today, others have taken the place of these graven images. Perhaps the most pervasive god of today is greed, the desire for more. Everything else is sometimes sacrificed in order to gain more. Yet God promises through the words of Hosea that if we forsake this god, we will be astonished by the abundance that will be ours. The splendor of our lives will outshine all the gold and precious gems of the world. God is our abundance. God is all that is worth craving or wanting. Like the Israelites of old, God invites us back and promises that we will experience abundance if we but embrace our covenant relationship which we have through Jesus.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator