My Merit or God’s Mercy? Saturday, 3rd week of Lent, Hosea 5:15-6:6/ Luke18:9-14

My Merit or God’s Mercy? Saturday, 3rd week of Lent, Hosea 5:15-6:6/ Luke18:9-14

When read together (and that is how the liturgy for Lent must be read) the Gospel and Prophet Hosea ring out the theme that God desires true repentance for His mercy that is available to all who seek it with a genuine heart. Within the Lenten season and the pairing of these texts, the Gospel may be misunderstood by many as a condemnation of the ‘holier than thou.’ This is not a finger-pointing Gospel that seeks to identify the ‘religious hypocrites’ among us but a ‘gentle arm around the waist’ that nudges us to the source of mercy.

The First reading is based within the context of the Syro-Ephramitic war which took place in the years 735-733 BC. While Assyria (modern-day Iraq) had allied with the Southern kingdom of Judah with its capital in Jerusalem, Syria had allied itself with the ten tribes of the Northern kingdom of Israel/ Ephraim with its capital in Samaria.

God would have nothing of this fratricide; of brother killing brother. His efforts to dissuade their reckless and ungodly behaviour met with indifference and pride. Chapter 15 is God’s judgment on the nations. Now that they have heard his wrath, now that they know that their sacrifices are worthless, they intend to ‘return to God.’ (16:1)

The Gospel picks up the theme here by comparing true contrition (the tax collector) with superficial repentance (the people of Israel and Judah). The anger of God seems very harsh in the Old Testament, yet even those who experienced the worst end of God’s wrath knew that in his core he is a merciful God, but don’t push your luck on that one.

We can end up taking advantage of the knowledge we have of God. This season of Lent may become for many of us another superficial act of repentance that wins us the favour of everyone but not the merits of heaven.

Interestingly, the merits of heaven are not won by those who, “pride themselves on being virtuous and who despise everyone else.” This lent, you may pray and fast, you may have avoided sin and given alms to the poor and yet not won the mercy of God simply because you relied on your merit. It is mercy not merit that wins us heaven.

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