Today, we hear from Hosea, one of the 8th-century B.C. prophets. Generally, we hear from him during Advent. Scripture scholars call his writing style deeply emotional and ancient. Later on, the prophet Jeremiah will use some of his style. Hosea is writing in the Northern Kingdom while it is under siege by the Babylonian army. In his writing, he uses the analogy of a bad marriage. It is hard to picture his context in our modern-day. What Hosea is talking about centers on the faithlessness of Israel. They have combined their worship of YHWH with Canaanite gods and this does not reflect on the community very well. His insistence that the people should not put their faith and trust in Baal but open their eyes to see the constant love and abundance of God in the rain which nurtures the crops and the dawn which brings the sun. This text brings us a very typical Lenten message to “change our ways.” In essence, Hosea is inviting the Hebrew people to look to God’s mercy, to take the risk and humbly believe in God’s forgiveness.
Hosea speaks of God’s mercy so beautifully. Using phrases like, “he will bind our wounds” (v.1). Etty Hilesum, a young Jewish woman who died in Auschwitz, wrote a final sentence in her diary, “We must be balm for all wounds” (Hilesum, An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork). Her words have such profound meaning, even today. On the anniversary of his election as Pope, I think of Pope Francis’ visit recently to a church in Iraq where ISIS massacred over 20 people on a Sunday morning while they were there for Mass. I believe he was binding the wounds of the people in the name of God. How consoling for the Catholic Church in Iraq that he brought—against all odds—hope. Much closer to home, our healthcare workers bind up wounds and take care of the final wishes of those who will never get to go home. A friend shared that at one time she was connected by Zoom with a priest in a neighboring parish who was giving the Last Rites to 6 dying patients. How blessed were they who had a beautiful and caring soul who respected and understood what that Sacrament meant to those patients – God’s providence. While you or I may not be called to help in such dramatic ways, are you being called to bind wounds?
One of our granddaughters, Alice, when she was just learning to communicate would say, “space” meaning that she did not care to be crowded. The season of Lent offers us this space for self-examination. Am I simply going about the “checking the boxes” or am I open to hearing God’s voice this day? Am I willing to listen? Am I open to change?
As I pondered the Gospel I was struck by the absolute emptiness of the Pharisee’s prayer and the depth of the tax collector’s prayer. Yet, how very scandalous for Jesus’ audience to hear. A Pharisee who upheld the Deuteronomic Laws -in right relationship—and an impure tax collector. Not found in any other Gospel, most of the commentaries suggest that Jesus was not criticizing the Pharisee but pointing out the subtleties. Like Hosea preached, God does not want our sacrifice but our heart. Perhaps if we offer that mercy to the people in our lives, our hearts will grow, and we will bind up wounds as well.
Blessings on your Lenten journey.
Jean Bowler is a retreatant at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, California, and a member of the Office of Mission Effectiveness Board of Holy Cross Province.