Hosea, Abraham and Matthew
Hosea, Abraham and Matthew. We are presented with various figures from scripture this Sunday. We are presented with the negative, the positive, and with change.
The negative figures are those from the Book of the Prophet Hosea, our first reading. Hosea was a prophet of the Northern Kingdom of Israel 700 to 750 years before Christ. You might remember that this was the prophet who performed the symbolic, prophetic action of marrying an unfaithful woman and calling her to come back to him, just as Israel was continually unfaithful to God, yet God kept calling Israel back. The people of Israel had adopted pagan ways in order to make a treaty with the Syrians against a mutual enemy, the Assyrians. They also figured they could use their new alliance to conquer the Southern Hebrew Kingdom of Judah. Well, they chose wrong and in 720 were themselves conquered and taken into slavery. Today’s reading addresses these people as they are engaged in their intrigues, before they had lost everything. They think that they can appease God with sacrifices. But they have no intention of being His People, no intention of trusting Him. Hosea says that when times get rough, in their affliction, they will undoubtedly expect God to protect them. He will rain down his justice upon them. Their sacrifices don’t impress God. They are not sincere. Their piety is like the morning dew that evaporates as soon as the heat gets turned up.
There is some of this in each of us. We become real pious in times of crisis. Then we say we are willing to do whatever God wants, unless it is too demanding. So often our commitment to Him has hooks to it. We will follow God in this, but not that. We will be pro-life in the case of the unborn, but are not pro-life in the case of embryonic stem cell research, or capital punishment. Many worship God piously in troubled times, but then forget him when the situation clears up. Do you remember all the people who came to Church in the months after 9/11? Where are they now? Hosea says that God is not interested in partial sacrifices, in prayers with a hook that say, “I will do this as long as you do that.” “It is love that I desire and not sacrifice,” God says through the prophet. “I desire that you live in my ways, not make sacrifices as though you would be appeasing me.”
All this reminds me of the many times that people who have been out of the Church for years and have no intention of returning, come to the rectory because they want something. They want their daughter married in our beautiful Church. Or they have heard how Guardian Angels has ascended to the top of Catholic Education and now they want to put their child into the school. They might carry a hundred dollar donation. I am not impressed. I will tell him to keep the money or give it to the poor, but start practicing the faith. Trifle offerings do not make up for commitment to the faith. We have to admit it. We all have some of this within us. We have to fight the concept that we can buy off God. That’s what Hosea rants about in the first reading.
The ideal character of faith is presented in the second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans. The ideal is Abraham, the Father of Faith. He completely trusted in God, even when he himself could not figure how God would fulfill his promises to Abraham. At a hundred years old and childless, he didn’t expect to be called the Father of Many Nations, but he trusted God. His elderly wife, Sarah, did become pregnant with Isaac. Do you remember, when the angels told Abraham that
Sarah would have a child she laughed. The name Isaac means the Son of Laughter. Abraham let God be concerned with how something seemingly impossible was going to take place. It was credited to him as righteousness. That’s an important biblical term, righteous. The closest we can say is “being right with God.” Righteousness actually means more than that, it means being united to God, the True One, the Righteous One.
During most of the last century people throughout the Church prayed for the end of atheistic communism. People believed that God would find a way. Pope John Paul II believed that God would work his wonders, and communism in Russia and Eastern Europe fell without hardly a shot being fired. They trusted God. He did the rest. We look at these recent events and say, these were righteous people, at one with God in their faith. One of the problems of our instant solution generation, our push a button on the computer and get an answer generation, is that we think we need to know how something is going to happen before we trust God to go into action. We need to, as the old expression says, “Let go and let God.” We don’t need to know .how. We just need to have the faith in the Divine Somehow.
This brings us to the figure in the Gospel reading, Matthew. Here in the Gospel of Matthew he is presented as gently as possible by the community of followers that had formed around the Apostle Matthew and who were responsible for the final rendering of the Gospel. But it is hard to cover up Matthew’s sinfulness. Before he met Jesus he was a collaborator with the occupying Romans. He used their soldiers to tax his own people, keeping a significant amount for himself. There were no set wages for the tax collectors. They collected whatever they could get from the people with the might of the Roman soldiers standing behind them as they sat at their table. The only thing that was set was how much the Romans expected from each person. Whatever Matthew could get and keep for himself was fair game. So, he wasn’t just a collaborator, he was a thief, a traitor, and an object of scorn. But then Jesus called, and Matthew got up, left his cushy life, left his love of money and followed Jesus. Matthew was not the great man of faith Abraham had been, but he wasn’t one of the hypocrites of the first reading, either. He was simply a man who when confronted with the opportunity to radically change his life, chose the Lord.
That’s us, at least me. We are not such good people that our very existence is seen by all to be righteous. But we are trying our best not to be hypocrites. We hear the call to change over and over in our lives. Advent, Lent, the death of a loved one, the death of Pope John Paul II. So many times in our lives we hear the call to be better. And time and again, through the Grace of God, we pull away from our self centered existence and choose Christ. Perhaps there are others who look at us and see out past. Perhaps they have good reason for their suspicion. But we no longer care about anything other than the love of Christ who has called us into His Mercy. “It is mercy I desire, not sacrifice.” You and I, real people in a world of sin and temptation, can live peacefully under His mercy.
Hosea, Abraham and Matthew. Hosea spoke about giving lip service to God. No that won’t work. Abraham, led a life of total dedication and faith. Hopefully, there are many Abrahams among us. But for myself, and perhaps for you, I identify with Matthew who is called to push away from the table of avarice, of selfishness, and plunge into the table of Love of our God, the Divine Lover, the God who calls me, and who calls you, to live Under His Mercy.