Psalm 81:6c-8a, 8bc-9, 10-11ab, 14 and 17
All three readings today refer to the need to reject false and foreign gods and turn with love to the one true God. We read the conclusion of the Book of Hosea, in which the prophet exhorts Israel to return to the Lord God. This exhortation takes the form of a prayer that first recognizes our need for forgiveness. We have all sinned against God and we beg for his merciful love. Second, we desire to offer to God an acceptable sacrifice and true worship. Third, our return to God means placing our hope and trust in him and not earthly powers – represented by Assyria and warhorses. Fourth, we must turn from the idolatry of sin: “We shall say no more, ‘Our god,’ to the work of our hands”. This, then, is our path to God: turning from sin, asking the Lord for forgiveness, trusting in him, and offering to him true worship.
After dealing with our path to God, Hosea looks at God’s response to our conversion of heart. On the one hand, God will heal our wounds, inflicted by sin. He will purify us because he loves us and turns from his wrath when we have been unfaithful to his covenant. On the other hand, we will be introduced into God’s life and family (Hosea 1:10) and bear fruit for God’s kingdom. Hosea conveys this truth through the image of a flower that blossoms, an resplendent olive tree, the fragrance of cedar, a fruitful vine, abundant grain and good wine.
Ephraim is mentioned throughout the Book of Hosea. Although only one of the ten tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel, “Ephraim” is sometimes used to refer to all ten tribes. The humbling of Ephraim (the Assyrian invasion in 723BC) is mentioned today and was also mentioned at the beginning of the Book of Hosea: God will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel (the northern kingdom) and will have mercy on the house of Judah (Hosea 1:4-7).
Psalm 81 recalls briefly the history of the relationship between God and his people: God liberated the people from slavery in Egypt; he led them through the desert to the promised land; he tested them at Meribah and established a covenant with them at Sinai. The first commandment of the Sinai Covenant was to worship the Lord God alone: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2). Fidelity to the covenant is a source of blessing: “I would feed them with the best of wheat, and with honey from the rock I would fill them”.
In the Gospel, the scribe approaches Jesus with good will and asks him a legitimate question: Which of the 613 commandments of the Law is the first? Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:4-5- Israel’s great confession of faith – in response. This confession contains an important truth: Lord is not only the one God of Israel, but the one and only God of the whole world (M. Healy, The Gospel of Mark, 246). Love is our response to God: love for God and love for all men and women.
The scribe approves of Jesus’ response and adds that love for God and for neighbor is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. The scribe was unaware that Jesus would soon replace the ineffective sacrifices of the old Temple with his one efficacious sacrifice on the Cross as the Lamb of God. Jesus’ sacrifice “fulfills both the commandment of love and the old covenant sacrifices. Like the temple holocausts, Jesus would be entirely consumed in his self-offering. Yet the value of his sacrifice is infinitely greater than the temple holocausts because of the fire of love for God with this it was offered. Jesus’ perfect sacrifice becomes the source and model for the love of Christians” (M. Healy, The Gospel of Mark, 248).
The scribe, Jesus remarks, is not far from the Kingdom of God, but he has not yet allowed God to fully reign in his life. Jesus encourages the scribe and challenges him to continue seeking the Kingdom. That encouragement and challenge is also extended to each one of us today.
Readers may contact Father Jason Mitchell at [email protected].