Friday of the Third Week of Lent | Readings: Hosea 14:2-10; Mark 12:28-34
Our First Reading is the conclusion of the writings of the prophet Hosea. He taught an intimate, time-tried, and tender relationship with Yahweh, after experiencing God’s own faithfulness to him. He was building on the cycles of give and take, faithfulness and unfaithfulness of his prostitute wife, Gomer—whom God told him to marry! His wife became the image of the soul before God. Think about that for a while. Just knowing Hosea’s biography will allow you to read the text with new sympathy and impact. “I will always heal your disloyalty. I will love you freely with all my heart,” says Yahweh, and that is how Hosea has come to love Gomer. We are not sure which came first, God’s faithful love for Hosea or Hosea’s forgiving love for Gomer.
In today’s compelling Gospel, Jesus is putting together what he sees as the summit and the summary of his own Jewish teaching (from Deuteronomy and Leviticus), plus he might well be echoing a famous rabbi, Hillel, who was his contemporary. Hillel said to an overzealous young rabbinical student in Judea: “What you find hateful do not do to another. This is the whole of the Law. Everything else is commentary. Now go learn that!” One wonders if we do not still need to quote both Hillel and Jesus to overzealous theology majors and seminarians of all religions, even today!
The new message here is that Jesus combines the quote from Deuteronomy with the quote from Leviticus! The scribe has asked him for the “first and greatest” commandment, and Jesus gives him two commandments yet treats them as one! He connects two disparate passages and makes them one and the same, love of God and love of neighbor: “There is no commandment greater than these!” Matthew’s telling makes it even more explicit, “And the second is just like it! On these two commandments hang everything in the law and in the prophets” (22:39–40). Hosea’s love of Gomer and love of God are one and the same love. God’s love of Gomer and of Hosea are one and the same love. If it is really Love, it is always One.
Happily, we have an enlightened seminary student in Mark’s version, who not only fully affirms Jesus’ teaching but adds, “This is far more important than any holocaust or sin offering.” When one is being trained in “temple theology” or “priesthood” as a profession, this is all the more amazing and rare. Notice Jesus’ strong validation of such “insight” or “wisdom” beyond his years: “You are not far from the Reign of God,” young man! The passage ends by the crowd being utterly silenced by such clarity and simplicity.
“‘Listen, Israel, the Lord your God is One. You shall love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ And this is the second. ‘You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” —Mark 12:29–31
“One God, you make all things one. Even my own heart, and even one with the hearts of others, and most unbelievably one with yours.”