Archive for the ‘Hosea 5’ Category

Repentance, Part XI   1 comment

Above:  Icon of Hosea

Image in the Public Domain


According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)


Hosea 5:15-6:6

Psalm 50:1-15 (LBW) or Psalm 119:65-72 (LW)

Romans 4:18-25

Matthew 9:9-13


O God, the strength of those who hope in you: 

Be present and hear our prayers;

and, because in the weakness of our mortal nature

we can do nothing good without you,

give us the help of your grace,

so that in keeping your commandments

we may please you in will and deed,

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 24


O God, from whom all good proceeds,

grant to us, your humble servants,

that by your holy inspiration we may think the things that are right

and by your merciful guiding accomplish them;

through Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 64


For I desire goodness, not sacrifice;

Obedience to God, rather than burnt offerings.

–Hosea 6:6, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985, 1999)


Yet the Law of Moses commands sacrifices and burst offerings.

Hebrew prophets did not always express themselves as clearly as some of us may wish they had.  In context, Hosea 6:6 referred to God rejecting the opportunistic appearance of repentance or a habitually errant population.  Divinely-ordained rituals were not properly talismans; they did not protect one from one’s proverbial chickens coming home to roost.  Hosea 6:6 asserted the primacy of morality over rituals.

I am neither a puritan nor a pietist.  I favor polishing God’s altar and eschew condemning “externals.”

God, metaphorically, is a consuming fire.  Before God, therefore, false repentance does not impress.  The attitude in Psalm 119 is preferable:

Before I was humbled, I strayed,

but now I keep your word.

You are good, and you do what is good;

teach me your statutes.

–Psalm 119:67-68, The Revised New Jerusalem Bible (2019)

Sometimes recognizing one’s need to repent may be a challenge.  How can one repent if one does not think one needs to do so?  How can one turn one’s back on one’s sins (some of them, anyway) unless one knows what those sins are?  Self-righteousness creates spiritual obstacles.

How happy are they who know their need for God, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

–Matthew 5:3, J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English–Revised Edition (1972)

The test, O reader, for whether you need God is simple.  Check for your pulse.  If you have one, you need God.  We all stand in the need of grace; may we admit this then think and act accordingly.










Adapted from this post



Sincere, Selfless Faith   1 comment

Above:  Hosea

Image in the Public Domain


According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)


Hosea 5:15-6:2

Psalm 43 (LBW) or Psalm 138 (LW)

Romans 8:1-10

Matthew 20:17-28


God of all mercy, by your power to hear and to forgive,

graciously cleanse us from all sin and make us strong;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 18


Almighty God, our heavenly Father,

your mercies are new every morning,

and though we have in no way deserved your goodness,

you still abundantly provide for all our wants of body and soul. 

Give us, we pray, your Holy Spirit

that we may heartily acknowledge your merciful goodness toward us,

give thanks for all your benefits,

and serve you in willing obedience;

through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 37


The selection of verses for the First Reading is odd.  These three verses, out of context, sound pious.  In textual context, however, one reads that the people in Hosea 6:1-2 were insincere, and that God knew it.  One realizes that the people in Hosea 6:1-2 were self-serving.

Sts. James and John, via their mother, St. Mary Salome, a maternal aunt of Jesus, were self-serving, too.  They sought positions of honor, not service and sacrifice.  Jesus modeled the opposite of being self-serving.  St. James and John eventually followed his example, though.

The authors of Psalms 43 and 138 offered honest faith, fortunately.  So did St. Paul the Apostle, who had a better life (by conventional standards) as Saul of Tarsus, persecutor of early Christianity.  As St. Paul, he suffered beatings, incarceration, and finally, martyrdom.

I do not pretend to have a completely selfless faith.  I know I am not a spiritual giant.  Yet I try to grow spiritually in Christ daily.  I aspire to be the best possible version of myself in Christ daily, with mixed results.  The effort is essential; God can work with it.





Adapted from this post


God’s Case Against Israel, Part II: Divine Disappointment   1 comment

Above:  Dew (Hosea 6:4)

Image in the Public Domain




Hosea 5:8-6:6


Remorse for and repentance for sins must be sincere if they are to prove effective.  Hosea 6:1-3 offers an example of insincere remorse for and repentance of sins, hence the divine rebuttal in 6:4-6.

The (northern) Kingdom of Israel had erred by breaking the covenant with God.  The way to resolve the problem was to repent, to return to God.  Instead, Israel turned to the Assyrian Empire.   One historical reference was to King Menahem (r. 747-737 B.C.E.), who paid tribute to the Assyrian monarch, Tiglath-pileser III (r. 745-727 B.C.E.) in 738 B.C.E.  (See 2 Kings 15:19-20).  The once-powerful (northern) Kingdom of Israel had become a vassal state of the Assyrian Empire.  The Assyrian king did not have Israel’s best interests in mind; God did.  Another historical reference may have been to King Hoshea (r. 732-722 B.C.E.), the a rebellious vassal of the Assyrian Empire and the last King of Israel.  (See 2 Kings 17:1-41).  Ironically, “Hosea” and “Hoshea,” literally “rescue,” were the same name.

For I desire goodness, not sacrifice;

Obedience to God, rather than burnt offerings.

–Hosea 6:6, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Alternative translations to “goodness” and “obedience to God” exist.  These include:

  1. “Loyalty” and “acknowledgment of God” (The Revised English Bible, 1989),
  2. “Loyalty” and “knowledge of God” (The New American Bible–Revised Edition, 2011),
  3. “Steadfast love” and “knowledge of God” (The New Revised Standard Version, 1989), and
  4. “Trust” and “knowledge of God” (Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible, 2019).

The Law of Moses commands certain burnt offerings, of course.  The Book of Hosea does not argue for nullifying any portion of the covenant with God, bound up with the Law of Moses.  The Book of Hosea does insist that these mandatory sacrifices are not talismans.  People must offer these mandatory sacrifices devoutly and sincerely if these sacred rituals are to have the desired, divinely-intended effects.

John Mauchline (1902-1984), of the University of Glasgow, wrote:

It is not necessary to conclude that Hosea regarded sacrifice as having no value whatsoever as an act of worship.  What is meant is that sacrifice as an expression of a living faith in the Lord may be a genuine religious act, but the Lord’s delight is in the true knowledge of the demands of his service and in the cultivation of that love which is the cultivation of that love which is the will for his people.  It should be noted in passing that whereas Samuel is reported to have called for obedience, not sacrifice, from Saul, Hosea’s demand is for love (cf. 1 Sam. 15:22).

The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 6 (1956), 628

Gale A. Yee, late of of the University of Saint Thomas, Saint Paul, Minnesota, and of the Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, added:

It is not the sacrificial system that Hosea condemns, but the dishonesty of its worshipers, whose conduct blatantly contradicts the demands of God’s covenant.

The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 7 (1996), 252

Sister Carol J. Dempsey, O.P., of the University of Portland, Portland, Oregon, wrote:

Ethical living is more important than religious rituals.  True worship is not defined solely by ritual practice; rather, it consists of an attitude and way of life characterized by justice, righteousness, and steadfast love–the hallmarks of the covenant and the necessary ingredients for right relationships with all creation (cf. Jer. 9:24).

–In Daniel Durken, ed., The New Collegeville Bible Commentary:  Old Testament (2015), 1495-1496

If one could be a card-carrying ritualist, I would carry that card inside my wallet.  Proper liturgy, as I understand it, sets the table for worship for me.  Low Church Protestant worship, which throws out the proverbial baby with the equally proverbial bath water, leaves me spiritually cold and uninspired.  Visiting houses of worship where such a poor excuse for liturgy is the offering is, for me, engaging in a mere perfunctory social gathering.  I feel like saying yet never say:

There, I was a sociable human being; I put in an appearance.  I did what you expected of me.  Are you happy now?  And do you call that a liturgy?

In some settings, I develop the difficult-to-resist urge to quote Presbyterian theologian and Davidson College professor Kenneth J. Foreman, Sr. (1891-1967):

One does not plead for the use of incense–Presbyterians are not likely to come to that–but at least one may protest against mistaking a general odor of mustiness for the odor of sanctity.

“Better Worship for Better Living,” Presbyterian Survey, August 1932, p. 482

Rituals occupy important places in cultures.  I admit this readily; I am not a Puritan, taking time out from whipping Baptists (see here and here) and executing Quakers (see here and here) to argue that God’s altar needs no polishing and, therefore, will get none.  Neither am I a Pietist, speaking scornfully and dismissively of “externals.”  I like externals!  Externals are important.  Yet even beautiful liturgies, entered into without devotion, are mere pageants.  Conducting splendid rituals, even in accordance with divine commandments, while shamelessly practicing human exploitation, for example, makes a mockery of the rituals.  And, on a less dramatic level, I recall having attended some Holy Eucharists when I, for reasons to do solely with myself, should have stayed home.  I remember some times that I habitually attended church on Sunday morning, but was not in the proper spiritual state.  I recall that I got nothing out of the ritual that usually feeds me spiritually because I brought nothing to it.  I remember that I merely got my attendance card punched, so to speak.

All people and societies have disappointed God.  We have all fallen short of divine high standards, possible to fulfill via a combination of human free will and divine grace.  The grace is present and sufficient.  But do we want to do what God requires?  Do we–individually and collectively–want to fulfill the ethical demands of divine law and covenant?  If we do, we become partners with God.  If we do not, we disappoint God and condemn ourselves.










God’s Case Against Israel, Part I: Bad Habits   Leave a comment

Above:  Cattle (Hosea 4:16)

Image in the Public Domain




Hosea 4:1-5:7


The heading for Hosea 4:1-9:17 in The Oxford Study Bible, Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha (1992) is,

God’s case against Israel.

This is a legal case, given the language of accusation and reproof, which carries the connotation of hauling someone into court.  This language carries over from Hosea 2:2/2:4 (depending on versification),:

“To court, take your mother to court!….”

The Revised New Jerusalem Bible (2019)

Then we got theological whiplash by changing the tone in Chapter 3 and switching back to judgment in Chapter 4.

Chapter 4 begins:

Hear the word of the LORD,

O people of Israel!

For the LORD has a case

Against the inhabitants of this land,

Because there is no honesty and no goodness

And no obedience to God in the land.

–Hosea 4:1-2, TANAKH: The Holy Scriptures (1985)

As I survey translations, I notice a variety of word choices in lieu of honesty, goodness, and obedience to God.

  1. The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011) offers, in order, fidelity, loyalty, and knowledge of God.
  2. The Revised English Bible (1989) offers, in order, good faith, loyalty, and acknowledgment of God.
  3. The New Revised Standard Version (1989) offers, in order, faithfulness, loyalty, and knowledge of God.
  4. Robert Alter’s The Hebrew Bible (2019) offers, in order, truth, trust, and knowledge of the LORD.

I will unpack the three terms, in order.

  1. Truth/faithfulness/good faith/honesty refers to the trustworthiness expected of a judge, as in Exodus 18:21.
  2. Trust/loyalty/goodness refers to fidelity in human relationships, as in 1 Samuel 20:15.
  3. Knowledge of God/obedience to God/acknowledgment of God refers to marital intimacy.  The metaphors of marriage, sexual fidelity, and divorce are prominent in the Book of Hosea.

In other words, the covenantal relationship between God and Isaiah was broken.  Israel had broken it.

The priesthood was corrupt, too.  Some priests were devout and honest, of course, but corruption was rife.

Exegetes whose writings I have consulted disagree with each other about the alien or bastard children in 5:7.

  1. These offspring may be alien because of Israelite intermarriage with foreigners.
  2. But, O reader, do not forget the pervasive metaphors of marriage and divorce in the Book of Hosea.  We read that God has “cast off” Israel for sustained, collective infidelity to the divine covenant.
  3. The most likely explanation is that both answers apply.

The heart of 4:1-5:7 may reside in 5:4a:

Their habits do not let them

Turn back to their God;….

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Alternative translations of the Hebrew word translated as “habits” include:

  1. Deeds (The New Revised Standard Version, 1989),
  2. Misdeeds (The Revised English Bible, 1989), and
  3. Acts (Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible, 2019).

Each of these translations has something to recommend it.  Yet I prefer “habits.”

Habitual behavior of the population had broken the covenant.

Human beings are creatures of habits.  May we, therefore, learn and nurture good habits, both individually and collectively.

I write this post at a particular moment, therefore certain issues occupy my mind.  The COVID-19 pandemic continues to claim lives needlessly around the world.  Whether to get vaccinated with a proven vaccine is, in the minds of many people with the option to get vaccinated, a politically partisan issue.  Public health policy, which should be just a matter of following science and saving lives, has become a matter of cynical politics for certain elected officials.  Varieties of hatred, often wrapped in Christian rhetoric, are on the rise.  Authoritarianism and objectively-inaccurate conspiracy theories are increasingly popular with most of those who identify with one of the two major political parties in the United States of America.  And speaking the objective truth about reality, as some members of that party do, is risky, if one hops to retain one’s leadership position within that party.

Bad habits separate individuals from each other.  Bad habits separate individuals, cultures, and societies from God.  Bad habits harm the whole.  Whatever I do, for example, affects others.  This is a statement of mutuality.  We all stand before God, completely dependent on grace.  In that context, each person is responsible to and for all other people.

Society is people.  Society shapes its members.  Those members also influence society.  When enough people change their minds, societal consensus shifts.

Their habits do not let them

Turn back to their God;….

This need not apply to any group, although it does.  Members of any such group can change their habits, therefore, their fates.  They can.  Will they?  Will we?





Renouncing Hatred   2 comments


Above:  F. W.  de Klerk and Nelson Mandela in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1993

Photographer = Carol M. Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-16052


The Collect:

Holy and righteous God, you are the author of life,

and you adopt us to be your children.

Fill us with your words of life,

that we may live as witnesses of the resurrection of your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 33


The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 30:1-11a (Monday)

Hosea 5:15-6:6 (Tuesday)

Psalm 150 (Both Days)

1 John 3:10-16 (Monday)

2 John 1-6 (Tuesday)


For this is the message we have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another….Whoever does not love abides in death.  All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them.

–1 John 3:11, 15, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)


But now, dear lady, I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning, let us love one another.  And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning–you must walk in it.

–2 John 5-6, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)


If one is truly as one thinks, the logic of 1 John 3 (as well as Jesus in Matthew 5:21 forward) is impeccable.  Actions flow flow from attitudes, after all.  The call from 1 John 3 and 2 John is for Christians to build up each other and to seek the best for each other–to love one another actively.  Such love often entails doing that which the other person needs but does not desire, but the commandment is love one another, not to please one another.

The pericopes from Hosea 5 and Jeremiah 30, taken together, point toward the familiar theological formulation of the failure to keep the covenant as the root cause for the demise of the Kingdoms of Israel (northern) and Judah (southern).  Ritual actions are wonderful when people perform them properly, not as talismans meant to protect them from the consequences of their sinful actions for which they are not repentant.  Idolatry, judicial corruption, and economic exploitation were ubiquitous.  People needed to address those problems first, not attempt to hide behind sacred rituals, which they profaned with their lack of sincerity.

The commandment to love one another–a core component of the Law of Moses–is difficult to keep.  It tells us to lay selfishness aside and to sacrifice ourselves for others.  It stands on the bedrock of complete dependence on God and of mutual dependence among human beings.  There are no self-made people in the Kingdom of God.  The rule of the Kingdom of God is not to tell people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  No, in the Kingdom of God we pull each other up and tend to our own responsibilities, for whatever we do, even in private, affects others for good or for ill.

The difficult commandment to love one another also requires us to cease nursing grudges.  If we cannot forgive someone just yet and know that we should do so, we can rely rely on grace to help us to do that in God’s time.  We are flawed creatures, something God knows well, so moral perfectionism makes no sense to me.  The best good deeds we can muster by our own power call into the Lutheran category of civil righteousness–laudable yet insufficient to save us from our sins.  We ought, therefore, to forgive ourselves for being mere mortals; God has.

I ponder the statement that those who hate are not of God.  Then I consider the numerous incidents of hatred (from ancient times to current events) among people who have claimed to be of God.  In particular I recall the narrative of an African-American slave who escaped (with help from conductors of the Underground Railroad) to freedom in Canada, then British North America.  One of his owners had been a Southern Baptist deacon and a brutal man.  The former slave recalled the fact that this master had died.  Then the free man, a professing Christian, wrote that he did not know whether the deacon had gone to Heaven or to Hell, but that he did not want to share the same destination with this former master.  That sentiment makes sense to me, for the deacon’s actions belied his profession of Christian faith.

A good spiritual practice is to, by grace, seek to identify all hatred one has and to renounce it–give it up, stop feeding it.  If all of it will not depart immediately, at least the process has begun.  In such a case, one should trust God to deal with that which is too great a matter for one.

May more people renounce hatred and its vile fruits then glorify God together.

Let everything that has breath

praise the Lord.


–Psalm 150:6, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)






Adapted from this post:


Being Moral Consists of Far More Than Following a Checklist   1 comment

Above:  The Calling of St. Matthew (1621), by Hendrick ter Brugghen



Genesis 12:1-9 (New Revised Standard Version):

Now the LORD said to Abram,

Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him.  Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.  Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan.  When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh.  At that time the Canaanites were in the land.  Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said,

To your offspring I will give this land.

So he build there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.  From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and invoked the name of the LORD.  And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.

Psalm 33:1-12 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous;

it is good for the just to sing praises.

2 Praise the LORD with the harp;

play to him upon the psaltery and the lyre.

3 Sing for him a new song;

sound a fanfare with all your skill upon the trumpet.

For the word of the LORD is right,

and all his works are sure.

He loves righteousness and justice;

the loving-kindness of the LORD fills the whole earth.

By the word of the LORD were the heavens made,

by the breath of his mouth all the heavenly hosts.

7 He gathers up the waters of the ocean as in a water-skin

and stores up the depths of the sea.

8 Let all the earth fear the LORD;

let all who dwell in the world stand in awe of him.

9 For he spoke, and it came to pass;

he commanded, and it stood fast.

10 The LORD brings the will of the nations to naught;

he thwarts the designs of the peoples.

11 But the LORD’s will stands fast for ever,

and the designs of his heart from age to age.

12 Happy is the nation whose God is the LORD!

happy the people he has chosen to be his own!


Hosea 5:15-6:6 (New Revised Standard Version):

[Yahweh speaking]

I will return again to my place

until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face.

In their distress they will beg my favor.

Come, let us return to the LORD;

for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us;

he has struck down, and he will bind us up.

After two days he will revive us;

on the third day he will raise us up,

that we may live before him.

Let us know, let us press on to know the LORD;

his appearing is as sure as the dawn;

he will come to us like the showers,

like the spring rains that water the earth.

What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?

What shall I do with you, O Judah?

Your love is like a morning cloud,

like the dew that goes away early.

Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets,

I have killed them by the words of my mouth,

and my judgment goes forth as the light.

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,

the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

Psalm 50:7-15 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

7 Hear, O my people, and I will speak:

“O Israel, I will bear witness against you;

for I am God, your God.

I do not accuse you because of your sacrifices;

your offerings are always before me.

I will take no bull-calf from your stalls,

nor he-goats out of your pens;

10 For all the beasts of the forest are mine,

the herds in their thousands upon the hills.

11 I know every bird in the sky,

and the creatures of the fields are in my sight.

12 If I were hungry, I would not tell you,

for the whole world is mine and all that is in it.

13 Do you think that I eat the flesh of bulls,

or drink the blood of goats?

14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving

and make good your vows to the Most High.

15 Call upon me in the day of trouble;

I will deliver you, and you shall honor me.


Romans 4:13-25 (New Revised Standard Version):

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.  If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.  For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)–in the presence of God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.  Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said.  He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old) or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.  No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.  Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”  Now the words, “it was reckoned to him” were written not for his sake alone, but for ours alone, but for ours also.  It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.


Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26 (New Revised Standard Version):

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him,

Follow me.

And he got up and followed him.

And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples.  When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples,

Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?

But when he had heard this, he said,

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’  For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.

While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying,

My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.

And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples.  Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself,

If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.

Jesus turned, and seeing her he said,

Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.

And instantly the woman was made well.  When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said,

Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.

And they laughed at him.  But when the crowd had been put outside, he went up and took her by the hand, and the girl got up.  And the report of this spread throughout that district.

The Collect:

O God, from whom all good proceeds:  Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


The Second Reading reading for this Sunday ties into the Genesis option for the First Reading, and the Gospel Reading connects to the Hosea choice for the First Reading.  And everything links together into a wonderful and consistent package.  My summary of that package is this:  Being moral consists of far more than living according to a checklist of “You shall” and “You shall not” statements.  Rather, proper priorities form the seat of morality.  And what is more moral than showing mercy and trusting in God?

Let us begin with Jesus and work backward from there.  First, he ate with tax collectors and other notorious sinners.  This was a great scandal to those preoccupied with ritual purity.  Besides, a self-respecting person concerned about ritual purity took great care in choosing with whom he broke bread.  Tax collectors were not salaried people, so they collected the Roman imperial rate plus the money they used to support themselves.  They were tax thieves.  This was common knowledge, and they were despised, considered traitors to their own Jewish people.  And here was Jesus, eating with them!  In North America we have a cliche:  He who lies down with dogs rises with fleas.  There was probably a similar saying in Aramaic.  But Jesus did not seek respectability according the such standards.  The other notorious sinners violated many parts of the Jewish law code, probably without remorse.  But the law was so complicated that only a small elite proportion of the population could obey the law in its entirety, as they interpreted it.  Yet these men, who lived according to the letter of the law, that is, a checklist, frequently violated the spirit of said law.  So even they broke the religious law.

You see, O reader, nobody could keep the law in its entirety, spirit and letter.  This, I think, is part of why Paul emphasized the role of faith.  As a former legalist, he understood this lesson well.  And Paul, by mentioning Abraham, a paragon of faith, made a chronology-based point that the great patriarch’s righteousness could not and did not rely on the law, for Abraham lived and died before the days of Moses.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus quoted Hosea, channeling Yahweh:

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,

the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

(Note:  The difference in translation between Hosea and Matthew is easy to explain.  The author of the Gospel of Matthew quoted the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.)

Jesus showed mercy to his dinner guests, whose potential he recognized.  He knew what they were but focused on what they could become.  May we look upon others in the same way.

And Jesus showed mercy on his way to satisfy the request of a grieving father.  The woman with the hemorrhage was, by the Law of Moses, ritually impure.  She had been for years.  Imagine how desperate she must have been for healing and restoration to society, for she was marginalized and destitute.  Her plight was itself an indictment of the law.  Jesus had mercy on this woman who had nothing but faith and helped Jairus, who had only one alternative to faith.  That alternative was to bury his daughter.

As one reads the four canonical gospels closely, one notices that Jesus violated and countermanded aspects of the religious law, as the Pharisees practiced it.  He did not wash his hands ritually.  He gleaned food from fields on the Sabbath.  He did not maintain a morality checklist beyond loving God fully and one’s neighbor as oneself.  One rule, treating others as one wants others to treat one, covers much of morality in just a few words.

As a student of U.S. history and of religion, I know the well-plowed ground that is the sad tale of how many professing Christians in Antebellum America quoted the Bible to justify slavery.  (The best book to cover this material is H. Shelton Smith’s In His Image, But….)  The pro-slavery case rested mostly on a a literal reading of selected passages of scripture, along with creative explanations about how keeping someone enslaved is consistent with the Golden Rule.  The anti-slavery case rested almost entirely on the Golden Rule.  And really, what else should it have needed?  The pro-slavery interpretation of the Bible was a highly selective checklist attempting to maintain the letter of the law; it was masterpiece of prooftexting.  But the anti-slavery case was gloriously simple, focusing on the spirit of the law.

I challenge you, O reader, as much as I challenge myself, to focus on the letter of the law and to let the details fall into the place.  This letter of the law is really quite simple:

  • Love and trust the Lord your God with everything you have and are.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Live mercifully.






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