14th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday (Year II)
Hosea 11:1-4, 8e-9; Matthew 10:7-15
Thus says the LORD: When Israel was a child I loved him, out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the farther they went from me, Sacrificing to the Baals and burning incense to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, who took them in my arms; I drew them with human cords, with bands of love; I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheeks; Yet, though I stooped to feed my child, they did not know that I was their healer.
From the image of God as husband and lover, Hosea switched colors and began a new portrait of God as parent with both paternal and maternal qualities in this chapter. The personal pronoun for Israel-Ephraim also alternated seamlessly between the singular and the plural, as the people were conceived as both one and many simultaneously. Images, symbols and words were all chips in a mosaic creating an impressionistic montage of a reality beyond finite grasp.
The covenant between God and his child was clearly unequal; an infant cannot repay his or her parents for the gift of life and nurture. Humanity was in a position of total receptivity to God. The divine heart burned with a mother’s love, lacerated as the child of her womb turned constantly away from her cheeks to kiss false gods.
My heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred. I will not give vent to my blazing anger, I will not destroy Ephraim again…
Like the selfless husband who continually redeemed his unfaithful wife, the rejected father transcended the human passion of punitive anger to call back his beloved son with the infinite, divine love that expected nothing in return (agape). For I am God and not man, the Holy One present among you; I will not let the flames consume you.
When the Word became flesh, Hosea’s kaleidoscopic impression received a human form, became the child Israel-Ephraim in the womb of his mother, and grew up to become the lover in pursuit of his beloved. His Body became the nexus between the One Three God and the one many personed humanity, linking heaven and earth as the theandric ladder.
Love Incarnate taught his brothers the economics of the Trinity: Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.
As the infant Ephraim received divine milk and teaching absolutely free, he was to give to others the spiritual milk of eternal life without expecting payment, for in reality no price can be set between the infinite and the finite. The most a receiver can pay back for his limitless debt was by immolating his entire existence to the Giver of life. On the Cross, the second Adam gave back everything the first Adam stole from the garden and deludedly called “mine”—his body, soul, spirit, mind, heart and will—and threw open the gate to restored personhood: “All mine are thine, and thine are mine” (John 17:10).
Jesus’ Father exemplified the perfection of love by giving his only-begotten Son away, not only gratis, but even to the point of allowing antagonists to tear him apart and do with him whatever they willed. The Father’s priceless treasure was laid open to vultures and plunderers without self-protecting barriers—a banker’s nightmare.
Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick.
Jesus’ call for radical abandonment to divine providence was revolutionary then and now. An apostle’s treasure was in heaven; he was not to make a profit out of priceless goods that rust and moth can destroy. The Gospel and business did not mix; they were incompatible.
However, life in the body necessarily required food, clothing and shelter. As Peter’s home sheltered Jesus during most of his public ministry, The laborer deserves his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, look for a worthy person in it, and stay there until you leave.
In Talmudic tradition, the rabbi was supported by his village and taught the divine word free of charge. In like manner, the apostle also received support and shelter from generous patrons in his itinerant preaching of the good news.
As you enter a house, wish it peace. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; if not, let your peace return to you. Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words—go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet. Amen, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.”
The last instructions mirrored the mindset in Semitic culture concerning words that can be given and taken back again; blessings mistakenly bestowed were revoked.1
After centuries of religious wars and violent controversies continuing even in our own day, the warning of judgment concluding this passage seems to invite a Bible-thumping, aggressive evangelism. However, in the light of the Cross, Jesus could not possibly have encouraged violence in any form. Conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit; apostles are only sowers of seeds. Human freedom will always be respected.
1 See William Barclay’s Commentary on Matthew for more details.