Hosea 11:1-7, 8c-9
Parents are deeply involved in their children’s development and welfare. They expend time, energy and money on behalf of the young committed to their care. This is especially evident during their years of education, among which the college period requires a large expenditure of concern and financial support.
Understandably, parents expect a return on their investment. This is not to be understood exclusively in economic terms, as if it were a business arrangement. It’s a quite natural expectation that results should reflect efforts and expense. Among the many examples of this is farming or gardening: we plant and cultivate seed, and look for growth.
God is our Parent and we are His children. He expends the same amount of time, energy and care on our upbringing that parents in this life do. And, like them, He looks for results corresponding to His investment.
Today the prophet Hosea speaks to God’s activity in our regard. Hosea borrows from family experience to describe God as a loving parent: doting on the child, correcting and guiding, caring for and watching over the little person, keeping the tiny one close by, making sure food is at hand. And getting angry and punishing the child who gets out of hand.
And God expects a return on His investment of His time and energy for our sake. Immensely wealthy though He be and lacking for nothing, He still expects that we, His offspring, will be dutifully mindful of His largesse to us, and take care to show Him our gratitude for all He has done for us. We owe Him payback for all He has done for us.
St. Matthew describes an instance of this in today’s gospel, by presenting a job description that Jesus draws up for His apostles. It consists of a mission on which He is sending them: their very first assignment after "graduating", as it were, from His caring tutelage. He gives them some helpful pointers on how to conduct themselves: what to preach, what to do, how to dress, what provisions to take with them, where to stay. No parent has ever been more solicitous in sending out a child on an assignment. It’s a rigid routine, but, after all, it makes sense that some recompense be given God for all that He has lavished on us.
God is a loving parent. We are dear to Him. He has blessed us. And we owe Him one. He has a task for each of us. It is our responsibility to discover and carry it out. He is not beyond punishing us if we are remiss in this matter. But that pales before the love He bestows on us. Let us rejoice in His loving care for us, even as we roll up our sleeves to do whatever He asks of us.
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Illinois.