I have been thinking about the fact that we have this additional day in our calendar this year. Grade school text books tell us that each time the earth rotates around the sun it takes a few hours more than 365 days. Since our calendar is based on the annual pilgrimage of the earth around the giant star that nurtures it with the energy of light and warmth, we need to gather up those extra hours, those “scraps of time” and mold them into an additional day every four years so that our calendar doesn’t get off track. This day is a special gift then, a quadrennial opportunity to find the fullness of human life.
Among the many hopeful texts of the various prophetic books, today’s first reading from the prophet Hosea is one of the most beautiful and poignant. We hear in the text the voice of a loving God, who has entered a covenant relationship with chosen humans that is analogous to the commitment of spouses to one another. But the chosen spouse (each of us) is wildly unfaithful – like a prostitute moving from one meaningless relationship to another for material gain! But such relationships take their toll on our humanness. At some point we faithless ones realize that the work of our hands that we have idolized – whether it be success (being number one!), money, or power over others’ lives – has leeched our humanity from us. Indeed, as the contemporary theologian Jon Sobrino has pointed out, false gods consume their worshippers, only Yahweh feeds those who worship him. In short, to practice idolatry is not only analogous to adultery, it is suicidal!
Out of this sorry picture of scarred lives and relationships God’s word is healing and life-giving: “I will heal their defection, says the LORD, I will love them freely; for my wrath is turned away from them.” Simply put, however, the capacity to receive this healing, this love, comes only to those who turn (or re-turn) to worship only Yahweh. In the Gospel text for today Jesus interprets all the law (teaching and guidance) of Israel’s God and asserts that it is completely summed up in the transformation of the human heart from worshipping itself and the things of this world, to worshipping God alone. This is a worship that is grounded in a profound affection for God characterized and nourished by the right behavior that flows from such committed affection.
When we love God rightly, we love God’s world and each neighbor who is given to us to share the world. The readings today in this day “out of time” challenge us, console us, invite us, and even seduce us to place all the energy of our humanity in loving service only toward the God who returns life for life given. How could we better spend our free gift of a day!
“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.” (Psalm 81)
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