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.