Saturday, March 01, 2008

Today's first reading (from the prophet Hosea) is one of the Good Friday readings in the Tridentine missal. It includes the line "on the third day he will raise us up to live in his presence," so it certainly is apt for Good Friday. In the Vatican II missal, this reading is paired with the Gospel parable of two men who went to the Temple to pray. Hosea had called for sincere repentance, not the superficial piety demonstrated by today's Pharisee. As the homilist at Assumption parish said this morning, "Two men went to the Temple to pray, but only one of them actually prayed." The Pharisee started out with prayerful language ("I give you thanks, O God"), but ended up talking "to himself" (and about himself!). Even though he was surely an upstanding citizen and member of the local synagogue, exemplary in every way, he lost track of the Lord himself, whereas the genuinely sinful tax collector stayed on target: "O God, be merciful to me, the sinner."
This brings up another point hinted at toward the end of the reading from Hosea: "It is steadfast love, not sacrifice that I desire; knowledge of God and not holocausts." In Hebrew poetry, what is special is not the rhyme scheme, but the parallel structure of a text, so this is a poetic couplet in which "steadfast love" is equated with "knowledge of God" just as "sacrifice" corresponds to "holocausts." Hosea is not saying that abstract, intellectual knowledge about God is the same as love; he is saying that steadfast love is true knowledge of God ("in the biblical sense"!).

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