Repentance from the heart – Saturday, third week of Lent – Hosea 6:1-6/Luke18:9-14
Religious cultic expressions are but a manifestation of faith in one’s heart. Yet cultic expressions can also be hollow and meaningless when performed perfunctorily. The altars of the temple of Jerusalem and those in Samaria never ran out of blood. Sacrifice of every animal drenched the altars and yet every act in the temple had clearly become another activity and prayer an empty show of piety.
In order to truly understand this text, you need to read Chapter five of the book of Hosea
In it, Yahweh describes the judgment that is about to befall Israel and Judah. Ephraim or Israel (the northern kingdom) will stumble, and Judah (the southern kingdom) will stumble with them (5:5). They will seek Yahweh, but will not find him (5:6).
What was the cause of God’s wrath? At this point of time, Assyria in the north east, was the reigning superpower. Situated along the rivers Tigris and Euphrates in modern day Iraq, this nation had begun to expand its borders westward. To counter them, Israel (the northern kingdom) formed an alliance with Syria to resist Assyria, resulting in conflict with Judah (the southern kingdom), which allied itself to Assyria. Now brothers will fight brother with ungodly nations as their allies. This was what came to be known as the Syro-Ephramitic war which took place in the years 735-733 BC. The long and short of this episode was that Assyria conquered Israel and exiled most of its people.
God has clearly turned his face from his people. Hosea 5:15 a text that ushers in the reading of today is a pronouncement of judgment by Yahweh on Israel and Judah. Yahweh described himself as a lion, who has ravaged Ephraim and Judah (5:14). Now he will return to his place, his lair, where he will await his repentant people. There will be no more wooing, no more cajoling. They will have to come to Yahweh; Yahweh is through coming to them!
While it seems like there is an inclination on the part of Israel to turn back to Yahweh, the text of today reveals the shallow repentance of a people ‘torn down’ and ‘struck down’ (6:1). They desire mercy and showers of blessing in return for their shallow display of repentance. Yet while there is a cry to turn back to God there is not a word of acknowledgment of their sins.
It is for this reason that Yahweh’s anger is roused. Like a frustrated father with an errant child he asks, “what shall I do with you Ephraim and Judah?” It seems the neither the carrot not the stick has worked and God has had no option but to judge his people and punish them. Too often we harp on the mercy of God without facing the reality of personal repentance. Mercy is a gift that only comes with true repentance.
In the text of today, Yahweh rejects the meaningless acts of repentance by Israel. In verse six, reiterating what he will say to the prophets, he makes clear his desire for steadfast love and not empty sacrifices (6:6) God desires that we know his ways and commandments and not merely every right turn in the liturgy. Empty liturgical gestures such as the empty sacrifices of the people if Israel are like the ‘morning cloud’ that disappears when the sun rises. These temporary gestures of empty repentance have brought about the words of harsh judgment on Ephraim.
This is what we see criticized in today’s Gospel too. And, for us, it is not the Masses we attend, or the prayers we say that count most, but the genuine love of God shown by the way we live our lives and the way we relate to the people around us.
Our prayer must flow out of such a lifestyle and, at the same time, bring about such a way of living.