A New Kind of King

Statue of Christ the King in Świebodzin, Poland. Licensed by Pomnik Chrystusa Króla under CC BY-SA 3.0.

14th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday (Year II)

Hosea 10:1-3, 7-8, 12; Matthew 10:1-7

If they would say, “We have no king”— Since they do not fear the LORD, what can the king do for them? (Hosea 10:3)

About three hundred years after the launch of the Kingship Experiment, Hosea published the results: despair and helplessness. 

In Samuel’s old age, the elders of Israel had approached him to ask for a king, for “We too must be like all the nations, with a king to rule us, lead us in warfare, and fight our battles” (I Samuel 8:20).

The Israelites were not content with the Lord alone as their king, and desired the imagined splendor and glory of the surrounding nations. The grass looked greener on the other side.

Samuel warned them that they would lose a lot of their freedoms if they abdicated personal responsibility to a ruler. Sons will be taken from them in military drafts; violent wars will be waged; daughters will be taken in servitude as “perfumers, cooks, and bakers;” fields, vineyards and orchards will be confiscated; and heavy taxes will be imposed. “On that day you will cry out because of the king whom you have chosen, but the LORD will not answer you on that day” (I Samuel 8:18).

The will of the people was done because human freedom will not be overstepped by divine force. Samuel’s prophecy came to pass, and Hosea had the unpleasant task of unmasking Israel’s spiritual immaturity in putting their hopes in a human king. 

With the coming of the Messiah, an entirely new kind of king appeared in Israel—poor, simple in appearance, compassionate to outcasts and the oppressed, a shepherd among his flock with no palace or even a place to “lay his head” (Matthew 8:20; Luke 9:58). The “army” of this “son of David” consisted of twelve ordinary men, including fishermen and an abominable tax collector. Instead of chariots, war horses and the warrior’s bow (Zechariah 9:10), the new king gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness.

“Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel,” was heard time and again by the descendants of Samuel’s generation (Matthew 9:33). Indeed, the mangled sheep of the house of David had come to expect heavy-handed laws and authoritative control as facts of life. 

“The kingdom of God is among you” and “within you” (Luke 17:21), Jesus said, and the human person is a “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19). 

The message of Jesus was revolutionary for a culture built around the Jerusalem Temple, the Mosaic Covenant, and reverence for the laws of the rabbinic tradition. Jesus did not come to destroy, but to fulfill the hopes of Israel, though that necessarily meant replacing old cloth and old wineskins. Before sending out the Twelve to the Gentile nations, Israel deserved closure after millennia of waiting for the promises to Abraham and the patriarchs: “Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”

As Samuel obeyed the Lord and gave the people what they wanted (a powerful king), Jesus obeyed his Father and gave the people what they wanted (a crucified king). “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15)  echoed the cry of the people to Hosea, “We have no king.” In all these cases, God was rejected and the will of the people was done once again.

The crucial difference now was that the death of Christ resulted in new life for humanity in his resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Holy Spirit into contrite hearts. The kingdom of heaven is already here as a seed of grace planted within. The process of living the Our Father—“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”—is a journey of union with the only-begotten Son on the Cross in his union and communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit.


“I Will Allure Her”

Commentators say the Book of Hosea, the 8th century Jewish prophet we’re reading at Mass these days, is one of the most difficult books of the bible to understand; its language and its references are often obscure. But one part of Hosea’s story you can recognize in any television soap opera or romantic novel today: It’s a story of marital infidelity, a broken marriage.

Hosea had trouble with his wife, whose name is Gomer. He was very much in love with her; they married and had some children. But Gomer’s not satisfied with Hosea and her family and she leaves them. She wants something else– romance, freedom, new things to see and to do, a new life.

So Hosea is heartbroken and crushed when she leaves him. He doesn’t understand why it’s happened, he’s bewildered and angry and feeling rejected.

Yet he still loves her and tries to win her back. He wants to renew the love they had for each other. Eventually, Gomer comes back, but we’re not really sure if she will stay. What we do know is that Hosea wants to have her back and have their love renewed.

Hosea’s story is an example of God’s relationship to humanity. God loves the world and its people. Yet, we can be unfaithful.  But God’s relationship is like the marital relationship, or as we also see in the Book of Hosea, the relationship of a father or mother to their children. God always wants us back.

You can hear the yearning of Hosea for his wife and the love of God for his people in yesterday’s  reading:

Thus says the LORD:

I will allure her;
I will lead her into the desert
and speak to her heart.
She shall respond there as in the days of her youth,
when she came up from the land of Egypt.

On that day, says the LORD,
She shall call me “My husband,”
and never again “My baal.”

I will espouse you to me forever:
I will espouse you in right and in justice,
in love and in mercy;
I will espouse you in fidelity,
and you shall know the LORD.

(Hosea 2:6, 17-18,21-22)

Divine Pity

True Bodily and Spiritual Enlightenment of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Church of Saint-Gervais-et-Saint-Protais, Paris, France). Licensed by Châtillon under CC-BY-SA-4.0

14th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday (Year II)

Hosea 8:4-7, 11-13; Psalm 115; Matthew 9:32-38

A demoniac who could not speak was brought to Jesus, and when the demon was driven out the mute man spoke. The crowds were amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.” But the Pharisees [who could speak] said, “He drives out demons by the prince of demons.”

The bracketed words were inserted to highlight the strange irony in this healing episode. The man diagnosed as mute by a demon had his faculty of speech and communication restored. Spontaneous gratitude for the restoration of a brother was the natural response, but the Pharisees could not care less about him; their hearts were fixated entirely on maligning Jesus.

The Pharisees were not clinically “demon-possessed,” but evil cloaked in righteousness, intelligence, and honor was far more dangerous to Jesus than the obviously deranged type. With pity and compassion, many demoniacs were healed, but only a few religious leaders showed openness to healing and conversion. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea risked unpopularity by standing with Jesus. 

Idol makers “have mouths but speak not” and “eyes but see not,” according to the Psalmist (115:5). The physically mute and blind, Jesus healed and forgave, but idolaters who set up their own egos in the place of the Holy Spirit spoke and saw only lies (Matthew 12:32), becoming thereby spiritually mute and blind. “Cast away your calf!” Hosea cried. 

Seeing the state of religion in his day, Jesus’ “heart was moved with pity” for the crowds “because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.” He taught his disciples, the first leaders of the Church, to see with his eyes, and feel with his heart, the abundant harvest. May all laborers in the vineyard of the Lord be anointed with divine pity, mercy and love. 


Learning in Bad Times

I find myself turning away from the news on television these days. I don’t think I’m the only one. The pandemic only seems to be getting worse, and we’re getting worse with it.

So we turn to the Good News.

I’m finding the Gospel of Matthew, which we’re reading these weekdays and on Sundays, helpful. It was written for people struggling with bad times.

The bad times were around the year AD 90 when the followers of Jesus in Galilee were reeling from the attacks of a resurgent Judaism. Those attacks are described in Chapters 10-12 of Matthew’s gospel.

Instead of closing their eyes and hanging on tight, Jesus tells his disciples to open their eyes and their ears, because there’s something for them to learn. “Blessed are your eyes, because they see and your ears because they hear. Many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it and hear what you hear and did not hear it”  (Matthew 13:16-17). He says that as he teaches them in parables.

Bad times can be the best times to learn. Some of the best things we know; some of the best insights we have;  some of the most creative thoughts may come in bad times. God doesn’t stop speaking or teaching in bad times; God sows seeds and opens new avenues. New treasures, new pearls are there to be discovered in the ground we walk over and the jumble of things that seem to overwhelm us.

We will be reading soon the parables of the treasure hidden in the field and the pearl of great price and the net that pulls up a bewildering variety of things from the sea.  It’s a message continued in the mystery of the Passion of Jesus. The disciples saw only death and failure there at first, but then they saw treasures in the wounds, the blood and water that flowed from his side, the words he said.

We don’t have to turn away from bad times. They’re times to keep your eyes and ears open, Jesus says. Like his first disciples, we should pray, not for blinders, but for “understanding hearts.”

“I Will Allure Her”

Resurrection of Jairus’ Daughter (Unknown author – Codex Egberti, Fol 25)

14th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday (Year II)

Hosea 2:16, 17b-18, 21-22; Matthew 9:18-26

Hosea, a prophetic instrument of God, had the unusual vocation of illustrating with his own life God’s undying love for his people. Directed to take an unfaithful woman for his wife who bore children with names denoting the consequences of infidelity, Hosea’s family became a mirror for Israel. The overarching symbol of a “marriage” between God and humanity in the Old and New Testaments was inaugurated by Hosea. 

After being banished from the lush garden of Eden, Adam and his progeny ran in every direction after worldly enticements—that which was “a delight to the eyes” (Genesis 3:6)—in the futile attempt to restore the immortal joy for which they were made. The carnival of sights, sounds, scents, tastes and textures of the city of Cain overwhelmed the spirit and sent the inner compass spinning. 

Thus says the LORD: I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart.

One does not fight fire with fire, but with its opposite, water. From the city of the world into the desert, Adam needed to be starved of the sensations and idols of the world in order to recover his divine sonship and origin. What “allure” did the desert and the wilderness have for a worldling? None, unless the still, small voice stifled by the clamor of the senses received a hearing from the inner spirit. Usually, only desperation after exhausting the decaying fruit of the city propelled surrender and retreat. 

Layer after layer of artificiality and unnatural conventions encrusted the human heart over many generations, yet the still, small voice was never completely silenced. The fundamental yearning for life, a voice above the din, was never destroyed. 

The synagogue official, Jairus, in desperation set aside the rumors and prejudices of the religious authorities against Jesus and sought his healing power for his daughter. The woman who suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years, and who was considered ceremonially unclean, broke with religious convention in search of the fundamental good, the fullness of life. Risking severe censure by reaching out to touch Jesus’ tassel, her faith and hope in the bearer of life trumped manmade rules. At the official’s house, Jesus walked into the unnatural fuss and commotion of professional mourners—flute players and wailing women—who “ridiculed him” for declaring the girl “not dead but sleeping.” The still, small voice calling out for life had been wrapped and mummified by a thousand artificial bandages. 

Life himself took the little girl by the hand and lifted her from the throes of death and mourning. In raising her up, Jesus showed himself to be the life-giving voice in the desert calling humanity back to the Father. 

I will espouse you to me forever: I will espouse you in right and in justice, in love and in mercy; I will espouse you in fidelity, and you shall know the LORD.


What is Life in the Spirit?

Entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), 12th C. mosaic, Palermo Cathedral, Palermo, Sicily, Italy.

What is Life in the Spirit?

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Zechariah 9:9-10; Psalm 145; Romans 8:9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30

The theme of littleness runs through the readings this Sunday, from the humble prince of peace riding on an ass to the little ones to whom the Son wishes to reveal the Father. The little ones of the kingdom bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit—love, joy peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, many in the churches had not yet fully experienced this abundant grace in the Spirit; hence the need to point out its contrast with the fleshly life. After accepting Jesus Christ as their Savior, believers still struggled with pride and other vices. Elsewhere in St. Paul’s letters, contentions and factions also arose among the followers of the “meek” king. Why didn’t a simple assent to truth automatically translate into the transfigured, deified life?

An objective, detached assessment of the spiritual life must admit that baptism is not a magical rite that automatically divinizes a person. It plants a seed of grace that must be continually watered, nourished, pruned and guarded in order to allow it to grow and flourish. Grace is the seed of glory. Seeds can also die in dry and barren ground, and never bear fruit.

Brothers and sisters: You are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.

Why would St. Paul use the conditional “if,” unless deification (transformation into Christ) was not automatic, but a process requiring watchfulness and attention?

For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

More “ifs” follow, plus the action verb “put to death,” with the Christian as the subject and the Spirit as our Paraclete. The baptized do not follow Christ by riding on his Cross, but by carrying it with him (a “yoke” is made for two) and crucifying the “old man” with its deeds. We have an Advocate to strengthen our spirit. The Greek Fathers used the word “synergy” to describe the process of deification—a mystical work of the human person and the Holy Spirit moving as one.

If the Christian life sounds burdensome, Jesus told us that the life of the little ones is restful:

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

In the Little Way of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, she described the spiritual life as a ride in an “elevator” to heaven, which sounds contradictory to the Pauline battle. But the life of the Little Flower was full of tearful self-conquest. Her testimony of ease and trust in Jesus (her “elevator”) came from a deep resolve to follow him day after day as a little child.

“The Lord lifts up all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down” (Psalm 145:14).