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TODAY’S BIBLE READING (HOSEA 11:1, 3-4, 8-9)

MY HEART RECOILS FROM IT.

Thus says the Lord:
When Israel was a child I loved him,
and I called my son out of Egypt.
I myself taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them in my arms;
yet they have not understood that I was the one looking after them.
I led them with reins of kindness,
with leading-strings of love.
I was like someone who lifts an infant close against his cheek;
stooping down to him I gave him his food.
My heart recoils from it,
my whole being trembles at the thought.
I will not give rein to my fierce anger,
I will not destroy Ephraim again,
for I am God, not man:
I am the Holy One in your midst
and I have no wish to destroy.

V. The word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.

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TODAY’S BIBLE READING (HOSEA 10:1-3, 7-8, 12)

IT IS TIME TO GO SEEKING THE LORD.

Thus says the Lord:
Israel was a luxuriant vine
yielding plenty of fruit.
The more his fruit increased,
the more altars he built;
the richer his land became,
the richer he made the sacred stones.
Their heart is a divided heart;
very well, they must pay for it:
the Lord is going to break their altars down
and destroy their sacred stones.
Then they will say,
“We have no king
because we have not feared the Lord.”
But what can a king do for us?
Samaria has had her day.
Her king is like a straw drifting on the water.
The idolatrous high places shall be destroyed –
that sin of Israel;
thorn and thistle will grow on their altars.
Then they will say to the mountains, “Cover us!”
and to the hills, “Fall on us!”
Sow integrity for yourselves,
reap the harvest of kindness,
break up your fallow ground:
it is time to go seeking the Lord
until he comes to rain salvation on you.

V. The word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.

 

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TODAY’S BIBLE READING (HOSEA 8:4-7, 11-13)

THEY SOW THE WIND, THEY WILL REAP THE WHIRLWIND.

Thus says the Lord:
They have set up kings, but not with my consent,
and appointed princes, but without my knowledge.
Out of their own silver and gold they have made idols,
which are doomed to destruction.
I spurn your calf, Samaria,
my anger blazes against it.
(How long will it be before they purge themselves of this,
the sons of Israel?)
A workman made the thing,
this cannot be God!
Yes, the calf of Samaria shall go up in flames.
They sow the wind, they will reap the whirlwind;
their wheat will yield no ear,
the ear will yield no flour,
or, if it does, foreigners will swallow it.
Ephraim has built altar after altar,
they have only served him as an occasion for sin.
Were I to write out the thousand precepts of my Law for him,
they would be paid no more attention than those of a stranger.
They love sacrificing; right, let them sacrifice!
They love meat; right, let them eat it!
The Lord takes no pleasure in these.
He is now going to remember their iniquity
and punish their sins;
they will have to go back to Egypt.

V. The word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.

 

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TODAY’S BIBLE READING (HOSEA 2:16-18, 21-22)

I WILL BETROTH YOU TO MYSELF FOR EVER.

It is the Lord who speaks:
I am going to lure her
and lead her out into the wilderness
and speak to her heart.
There she will respond to me as she did when she was young,
as she did when she came out of the land of Egypt.
When that day comes – it is the Lord who speaks –
she will call me, ‘My husband’,
no longer will she call me, ‘My Baal’.
I will bethroth you to myself for ever,
betroth you with integrity and justice,
with tenderness and love;
I will betroth you to myself with faithfulness,
and you will come to know the Lord.

V. The word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.

 

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932 B.C. – THE PERIOD OF THE TWO KINGDOMS IN THE BIBLE EXPLAINED: I. THE KINGDOM OF ISRAEL

THE HEAVY TAX YOKE KING SOLOMON HAD IMPOSED ON THE KINGDOM

“The splendid achievement of King Solomon brought great glory to the people of Israel, and his reign would be long remembered with nostalgia as a time of great glory for the nation. But the splendour of his time was bought at a great price. He did not add sufficiently to the resources left him by David to achieve his great projects without imposing on his people a tax and labour burden which aroused great resentment.

REVOLT

As a consequence Roboam, his successor, found himself ruling a discontented people. They asked him to relieve them of the heavy yoke that Solomon had placed upon them. Roboam, refusing to listen to the sage advice of the elders of the kingdom, refused.

Ten of the tribes – all except Juda and Benjamin – rose in revolt and elected Jeroboam, a former official under Solomon, king of the new kingdom of Israel. The portion of the old kingdom remaining to Roboam became known as the kingdom of Juda. This division of the kingdom took place in the year 932 B.C.

A STEADY PROGRESS TOWARD DISASTER

The subsequent history of the two kingdoms of Juda and Israel is, on the whole, a steady progress toward disaster. In the political and military spheres they found themselves slowly destroyed between the crushing rivalries of the great empires of Egypt, Assyria and Babylonia.

Unable to reach any permanent unification of their forces for the protection of all the Chosen People of God, they embarked upon a course of political and military intrigues, now allied with one another, now opposed to one another; now allied with other petty states against Assyria; now allied with Assyria against Egypt, or with Egypt against Assyria. Almost always these alliances brought more harm to the Chosen People, until both kingdoms were destroyed.

In 721 the kingdom of Israel fell and its people were led into captivity by the Assyrians. In 586 the kingdom of Juda fell and its people were led into captivity by the Babylonians.

A NECESSARY PREPARATION OF THE PEOPLE FOR THE COMING OF SALVATION

If this were the whole history of these times, we would have concluded that God’s plan to save the world through the Chosen People had failed. The strength of His love had been squandered uselessly on the weakness of men.

But at this time the phenomenon of prophetism was sent to Israel by God to correct the errors of the people and to lay the foundation of hope for the future. In the light of the teaching of the prophets this unfortunate period in the life of Israel can be seen as a necessary preparation of the people and of the world for the coming of salvation.

THE ROLE OF GOD’S PROPHETS

The Hebrew prophets were men raised up by God to speak to the Chosen People in God’s name. It was their mission to speak against the errors of the kings, priests and people. In fulfilling this mission they extolled trust in Jahweh and denounced the purely human [worldly] policy of seeking safety through political and military alliances. They urged the simple worship of Jahweh, and condemned the infiltration of idolatry into the religious life of the people. They castigated the abuses of justice and the luxuriousness of the people. But they also promised ultimate victory to Jahweh and His people.

HISTORIC CONTEXT

To perceive the universal significance of their message we must consider it in its historical context. For this purpose we shall consider first the history of the schismatic kingdom of Israel, and then that of the Davidic kingdom of Juda.

GOLDEN CALVES WERE PLACED IN BETHEL AND IN DAN

The first disastrous consequence of the rebellion of the ten tribes was the destruction of the religious unity of the people. The attempt of David and Solomon to secure religious unity by centralising worship at. Jerusalem – an attempt already dramatically successful at the completion of Solomon’s great Temple in Jerusalem – became a failure through the division of the kingdom.

A religious unity of divided peoples, a unity made real by the centralisation of divine worship at Jerusalem, would be a constant threat to the powers of the schismatic kings of Israel.

With more political foresight than devotion to Jahweh, Jeroboam, the first ruler of the kingdom of Israel, established two centres of worship for his kingdom, one at Bethel and the other in Dan. Unfortunately the ever present tendency of the people to debase the true worship demanded by Jahweh manifested itself at once. Though Jeroboam designated these two centres as places of worship of Jahweh, he adulterated the Mosaic religion by placing, both in Bethel and in Dan, golden calves to represent Jahweh.

THE WARNING OF THE PROPHET AHIAS REGARDING THE GOLDEN CALVES

At the command of Jahweh, Ahias, a prophet, told the wife of Jeroboam that the kingdom would be taken from his dynasty because of this disobedience to God’s command to make no graven image of Himself. After a reign of two years, Nadab, the son of Jeroboam, was slain by Baasa, who then reigned for twenty-four years. Baasa’s long reign was unusual in the kingdom of Israel. The tradition of revolt inaugurated by Jeroboam became a characteristic of the northern kingdom. Ela, the son of Baasa, reigned two years before he was overthrown by Zimri, who, in turn, was replaced by Omri.

WORSHIP TO THE TRUE GOD WAS NOW IN GRAVE DANGER OF EXTINCTION

Politically Omri was a good king. He probably avoided difficulty with the Assyrians by paying tribute to the Assyrian monarch Ashur-nasir-pal II. He seems to have subdued Moab. He maintained friendly relations with Ethbaal, king of Tyre, and arranged the marriage of his son Achab to Jezabel, daughter of Ethbaal.

Under his son Achab, the Phoenician Jezabel encouraged the worship of the Baal of Tyre and persecuted the faithful followers of Jahweh. A temple was built to Baal at Samaria, the capital of the kingdom, and maintained at the expense of the royal treasury.

At this time, when the worship of the true God was in grave danger of extinction, God sent the prophet Elias to defend Jahwism.

THE PROPHET ELIAS APPEARS

Elias prophesied that God would send a severe drought to punish Achab and Israel for their idolatrous worship of Baal. In the year 857 B.C. the drought occurred. As the drought lasted until late in the year 856, Achab was impressed and agreed to a trial of power between Baal and Jahweh. In accordance with the wish of Elias, the prophets of Baal – over four hundred in number – and the people assembled on Mount Carmel for the trial.

ONLY OUR GOD REIGNS, ALWAYS, FOR EVER & EVER

A bullock was given to the prophets of Baal and a bullock to Elias. The prophets of Baal placed their bullock upon sticks of wood for burning. Elias then said to the people: ‘How long do you halt between two sides? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him… Call ye on the names of your gods, and I will call on the name of my Lord: and the God that shall answer, let him be God’ (1 Kings 18:21, 24).

The prophets of Baal prayed and performed their rites in vain. The wood for their holocaust would not ignite. Then Elias placed his bullock on a pile of wood and drenched the sacrifice and the wood with water, and called upon Jahweh. ‘The fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the holocaust’ (1 Kings 18:38). At once the people cried out their allegiance to Jahweh, and they killed the prophets of Baal. After this, God sent rain to relieve the drought.

STERN MEASURES AGAINST THE WORSHIP OF BAAL

But even this pointed lesson did not destroy completely the debased religious practices of the house of Omri. Under Joram, the son and second successor of Achab, the prophet Eliseus arranged to have Jehu, one of the captains of Joram’s army, anointed king as a punishment for the destruction of God’s true prophets by Achab and Jezabel.

Jehu took stern measures against the worship of Baal. But he did not destroy the idolatrous worship of the golden calves at Bethel and Dan.

Jeroboam II, the great-grandson of Jehu, ruled for forty-one years (784-744 B.C.) and restored the kingdom of Israel to a position of strength and prosperity. But after his reign the kingdom declined steadily.

THE GOLDEN CALVES REMAINED IN PLACE

His son Zacharias was murdered after a rule of only six months. He was succeeded by Sellum, who in turn was murdered by Menahem. Menahem became a vassal king to Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria. The kingdom was thus embroiled in the struggles between Assyria and Egypt. Peqahia, son of Menahem, was murdered by a group of conspirators who favoured Egypt over Assyria.

THE KINGDOM DECLINED STEADILY

He was succeeded by Peqah, who entered into an alliance with Rasin, king of Damascus, against Assyria. Failing to induce the kingdom of Juda to enter the alliance with them so as to insure help from Egypt against Assyria, they besieged Jerusalem. This led Achaz, king of Juda, to appeal for help to Tiglath-Pileser. In the year 732 the Assyrians defeated Rasin and Peqah. The tribes of Nephtali and of the Transjordan were transported to Assyria.

An Israelite named Osee killed Peqah and aSsumed the crown. While nominally subject to Assyria, he seems to have intrigued with the Pharaoh of Egypt against Salmanassar V. When the Assyrian monarch learned of this he made Osee his prisoner. But in Samari the people continued to resist the Assyrians. Salmanassar laid siege to the city in 724.

THE ORIGIN OF THE SAMARITANS, AND WHY THEY WERE DIFFERENT

In 721 Sargon, successor to Salmanassar, took Samaria and deported over 27,000 inhabitants of the kingdom of Israel to distant regions in the empire of Assyria. Other races conquered by the Assyrians were imported into Israel. While these new peoples, in accordance with the customs of the time, worshipped Jahweh, they continued to worship their own gods also. As a result there arose in Israel that people known as the Samaritans, a people of mixed religious beliefs and practices.

THE PROPHETS AMOS AND HOSEA EXPLAIN THE MEANING OF THE FALL OF THE KINGDOM OF ISRAEL

The meaning of the fall of the kingdom of Israel is given to us in the message of the prophets Amos and Osee [Hosea] sent by God to the kingdom of Israel in the last years of the kingdom. According to both prophets the kingdom of Israel was forgotten by God because of her sins. The people of Israel have sinned against justice, oppressed the poor, sought the riches of this world, rather than the friendship of their God. In their pursuit of the riches, pleasures and power of this world they have relied upon political alliances rather than on Jahweh. Desirous of material prosperity they have worshipped the false gods of the land in which they dwelt and so have become unfaithful to Jahweh. According to Amos they would not pay heed to the blessings or the chastisements sent them by Jahweh. They became incorrigible in their faithlessness. As a consequence both prophets foretell the destruction of the kingdom and the captivity of the people in Assyria. But, as Osee [Hosea] points out, the captivity will be a blessing, for the people thus humiliated will see the error of their ways, they will give up the worship of the false god Baal and will return to the worship of Jahweh, the true God. Then God will lead them out of captivity and will restore them to their native land.

GOD REMAINS FAITHFUL

The teaching of Osee [Hosea] in particular sheds new light on the relationship which God desires with man. Osee portrays God as the loving Spouse of Israel, and Israel as the faithless wife of God. The covenant of God with His people, then, is not simply a contract founded on justice. It is a union of love which God desires. He will be not simply the Lord of His people but their loving Spouse. And His love for His spouse is so great that even though she is unfaithful to Him and enters into sinful relations with other and false gods, still God will remain faithful to His love for her. Her chastisement will be heavy and painful, but it will be administered by love and will bring about her return to her true husband.

ISRAEL JOURNEYING FROM THE WORLDLY OUTLOOK TO THE TRULY SPIRITUAL

This portrayal of God as the Spouse of Israel and the prophet’s castigation of the worldliness of the Israelites and his teaching that God desires mercy and not sacrifice show that Israel had not appreciated the true spirituality of the religion of Moses. They had regarded their covenant with Jahweh simply as a means to temporal [material] advantage, and they had sought this advantage in a purely external worship of their God. Osee, in the portrayal of God as their Spouse and of themselves as God’s unfaithful wife, emphasises the truth that God will be bound to His people by love, the total and faithful love which obtains between husband and wife. God wishes to be worshipped not only externally but internally with the love of the spirit. This is the great lesson of the prophets of Israel.”
– Martin J. Healy, 1959

 

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CONVERSION, REPENTANCE, ANTICIPATING THE NEW LIFE OF EASTER – THE LENTEN READINGS IN MASS

LENT – A “STRONG SEASON”

The richness of the lectionary provided for the Church by the Second Vatican Council can be seen not only in the Sunday readings, but also on weekdays, particularly in the “strong seasons” of the liturgical year, such as Lent and Advent. The Lenten weekdays have Gospels chosen for their particular theme and first readings taken from the Old Testament to match that theme. On over half of the weekdays from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday the first readings are taken from the prophets.

FROM THE PROPHETS

All three of the “major prophets” in the ancient Hebrew scriptures, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, are present in the weekday Lenten lectionary, while four of the twelve “minor prophets”, Hosea, Joel, Micah and Jonah, also appear.

ISAIAH

It is well known that the huge book of the prophet Isaiah, made up of sixty-six chapters, is not from the hand of one prophet. The prophetic ministry of the eighth-century prophet Isaiah lies at the heart of the first thirty-nine chapters, while the remaining chapters are attributed to prophets we know as “second” and “third” Isaiah. While in the work of the first Isaiah the call to conversion dominates, it is the promise of salvation which is more prominent in the latter parts of the book.

“CEASE TO DO EVIL”

The clearest example of the preaching of conversion comes on Tuesday of the second week of Lent when excerpts from the first chapter of Isaiah proclaim “Cease to do evil. Learn to do good, search for justice, help the oppressed, be just to the orphan, plead for the widow.”

FASTING

This call for repentance leading to social justice is echoed in the readings for the Friday and Saturday after Ash Wednesday. Though these are taken from the final chapters of Isaiah they too contain an invitation to conversion, and above all a proper kind of fasting. True fasting is “to break unjust fetters and undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke, to share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor”.

“TURN TO THE LORD YOUR GOD AGAIN!”

A reading from the prophet Ezekiel on Friday of the first week stresses the Lord’s desire for the conversion of the sinner. Perhaps not surprisingly the clearest call to conversion comes in the reading from the prophet Joel on Ash Wednesday. A communal act of penance is the context of these words. “Let your hearts be broken and not your garments torn, turn to the Lord your God again!” In echoes of the Book of Exodus God is then described as “all tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in graciousness, and ready to relent”.

BRINGING ABOUT CONVERSION

A story of communal repentance and the mercy of God is found in the extract from the small book of Jonah on Wednesday of the first week of Lent. Despite his reluctance the prophet is God’s instrument for bringing about the conversion of the Ninevites.

FORSEEING THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST

A distinct group of prophetic readings in the weekdays of Lent foresee the sufferings of Christ. There are several excerpts from the “confessions” of Jeremiah, his personal outpourings about the persecution he experiences. These readings are heard on the Wednesday of week two, the Saturday of week four, and the Friday of week five. On this last day Jeremiah cries out: “I hear so many disparaging me: Terror from every side!”

UNJUST SUFFERING AND ITS SALVIC VALUE

The tone is similar to that of the Songs of the Suffering Servant, found in the second part of Isaiah and proclaimed during Holy Week, with the climactic reading on Good Friday of chapters 52-53 “See my servant will prosper!” These profound words about unjust suffering and its salvic value are fulfilled in the passion of Jesus.

“I WILL HEAL THEIR DISLOYALTY”

Among the finest prophetic poems are the extracts from Hosea which are heard on Friday and Saturday of week three. Hosea speaks of God’s constancy despite the infidelity of Israel. The reading from chapter 14, heard on Friday, proclaims God’s fidelity: “I will heal their disloyalty, I will love them with all my heart, for my anger has turned from them”.

SALVATION

As we enter the fourth week of Lent, and the gospel readings begin to be taken from the Gospel of John, we hear from the two great prophets of the exile, Ezekiel and the second Isaiah. It is these prophets above all who speak of salvation. The readings in Lent are a foretaste of those heard at the Easter Vigil.

LIFE-GIVING WATER

On Monday of the fourth week the reading is taken from the penultimate chapter of the book of Isaiah: “Now I create new heavens and a new earth and the past will not be remembered.” The gospel on this day is the second of Jesus’ seven signs, taken from chapter 4 of John. On the following day the prophetic reading is from the penultimate chapter of Ezekiel, which continues the account of the prophet’s final vision (chapters 40-48). Ezekiel experiences the abundant, life-giving water gushing from the rebuilt temple.

EASER IMAGERY

In the gospel which follows the third Johannine sign is proclaimed, the healing of the cripple at the pool of Bethzatha. Easter imagery is once more to the fore. On the Wednesday of the fourth week we return to the second Isaiah: “At the favourable time I will answer you.” The reading concludes with the comparison of the Lord to a woman cherishing the child of her womb: “Even if these forget, I will never forget you.”

“TO GATHER TOGETHER IN UNITY THE SCATTERED CHILDREN OF GOD”

On the day before Palm Sunday we turn once again to the prophet Ezekiel. The theme is the reunion of the people of Israel and Judah into one nation. There is a cascade of images here: one nation and one king, one shepherd over all, living in the land, a covenant of peace, an eternal covenant. The gospel reading from John which follows contains the prophetic words of the high priest Caiaphas and the evangelist’s explanation that Jesus would die “not for the nation only, but to gather in unity the scattered children of God”.

THE COMING OF THE MESSIAH

St Jerome said that the Old Testament was pregnant with Christ. What he meant by this was that the prophets especially were inspired by the Spirit to point towards the coming of the Messiah, the Lord’s Anointed, who was also the Suffering Servant. The New Testament writers saw in these prophetic utterances the Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection of Christ Jesus.
– This article by Fr Adrian Graffy was published in “Faith Today”, March 2013. To subscribe to Faith Today, visit http://www.alivepublishing.co.uk (external link).

 

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