01Apr Friday in the Third Week of Lent

Ho 14:2ff. Those who are wise understand how – in the face of all dangers and worries – God supports those who trust in Him.

Mark 12:28ff. In response to a lawyer’s honest question, Jesus explains his basic principles of love.

A Living Dialogue

Both readings today are in a dialogue style and offer an excellent example of how to prayerfully study the Sacred Scriptures. We are to consider ourselves in the presence of God, but also in the presence of our larger community (Israel or the Church). The inspired authors – Hosea and Mark – add their own comments at the end; after all, they edited the material.

In the of Hosea’s prophecy we find this series of speakers, within the text:

Prophet Hosea or a priest: “Return, O Israel, to the Lord, your God . . .”
Israel at prayer: “Forgive all iniquity . . .”
Israel in conversation: “Assyria will not save us, . . . we shall say no more,’Our God,’to the work of our hands.”
Israel at prayer: “In you [O Lord] the orphan finds compassion.”
God’s reply: “I will heal their defection . . .”
Liturgical response: “He [Israel] shall strike root . . . Again they shall dwell in his [the Lord’s] shade and raise grain . . .”
God’s reply: “Ephraim! [another name for Israel] … I have humbled him but I will prosper him . . .”
Editor’s comment: “Let him who is wise understand these things . . .”

Passages of the Bible like this one become a powerful instrument for prayer and for community discussion, because almost unconsciously a wide group of people are locked into practical discussion and profound prayer.

A different scenario of dialogue is seen in Mark’s gospel yet the overall effect remains the same:

Setting: An argument between Jesus and some of his critics, whose whole focus is on the Law given through Moses.
Scribe: “Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord your God . . . love your neighbour as yourself.”
Scribe: “Excellent,teacher!. . .love. . .is worth more than any burnt offering . . .”
Jesus: “You are not far from the reign of God.”
Mark the Evangelist: “No one had the courage to ask him any more questions.”

The thrust of each dialogue is conversion, but not necessarily restricted to a negative movement away from sin. In Hosea, Israel is to “return to the Lord, your God”; in Mark, one positively seeks love towards God and neighbour and thereby a proper love for oneself. This desire for God is a prayerful response, not a theoretical exposition. Rather than be distracted by the theology of conversion, the people reach out effectively with compassion for the orphan.

Each passage in its own way presents a healthy interchange with liturgical prayer. The scribe declares that love “is worth more than any burnt offering” and Hosea adds that once such love is secured then “we may render as offerings the bullocks from our stalls.”

Both Hosea and Jesus speak in the language of the ancient Scriptures which they had learned from participating in the liturgy. Liturgical celebrations on earth reflect the beauty and peace of heavenly life. Heaven’s dew, Hosea states, rests upon Israel. Jesus says “Amen” to this anticipation of heaven: “You are not far from the reign of God.”

Hosea and Mark enable us to put all of our Lenten practices into proper relationship, each with the other, ourselves with our neighbour and Church, all with God. If only my people would hear me, and Israel walk in my ways,

I would feed them with the best of wheat, and with honey from the rock I would fill them.

First Reading: Hosea 14:2-10

Take words with you and return to the Lord; say to him, “Take away all guilt; accept that which is good, and we will offer the fruit of our lips.

Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses; we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy.”

I will heal their disloyalty; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them.

I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily, he shall strike root like the forests of Lebanon.

His shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive tree, and his fragrance like that of Lebanon.

They shall again live beneath my shadow, they shall flourish as a garden; they shall blossom like the vine, their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress; your faithfulness comes from me.

Those who are wise understand these things; those who are discerning know them. For the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.

Gospel: Mark 12:28-34

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbour as oneself,’ – this is much more important that all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

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