The prophet Hosea is really giving the people ‘what for’ as he confronts them with their fickleness in their relationship with God. The fidelity of the tribe of Ephraim and Judah is like a morning cloud, like the dew on grass that goes away quickly. Hosea reminds them that God prefers their steadfast love over their sacrifices, sacrifices deaden by routine and lack of commitment.
Hosea encourages the people to ‘press on to know the Lord’. What he wants the people to do is to rediscover the God Who loves them and enables them to love others. His words are as true today as the day they were first spoken. Let us press on to know the Lord. Know the Lord through our reading of Scripture, know the Lord by finding a time in our busy day to be present to Him in prayer, know the Lord by being attentive to the different ways God works in our lives, intrudes into our lives by the different situations that may come our way in the course of a day. In one of the psalms we read, ‘if today you hear God’s voice harden not your hearts.’ If we are attuned to the presence of God in our lives, if we know that God enters our lives in every person we meet in the course of the day, if we are conscious of the fact that God is with us in all the events that make up our days, then we would appreciate the depth of the words, ‘press on to know the Lord.’
Many of you remember Fr. Luigi. He worked for years with the Italian community and held our St. Gabriel’s Festa every August. He died four years ago on May 18th. I keep in touch with his sister Sue. She is the last of his family. I called her last Sunday to see how she’s doing and she was telling me about her husband who is 85. Sue is 81. Her husband has Alzheimer’s disease and requires constant care. Sue won’t even consider the possibility of putting him into a long care facility. She knows she is wearing herself out caring for him but she said, ‘when I think of how hard he worked caring for this family, 15- 16 hours a day in the bakery, I just can’t hand him over to someone else. We owe him so much.’ To my mind, the sensible, the rational, the pragmatic thing for Sue to do is to put him into a home. She’ll be dead before he dies if she carries on like this. What I got out of that phone conversation of Sunday was a lesson in selfless love and dedication. Sue lives the vows she took at her wedding 61 years ago, ‘for better, for worse, in sickness and in health til death.’ Other spouses in similar situations have made other decisions and they can’t be second guessed – but I was really daunted by Sue’s commitment to her husband. That conversation really made me question my own sense of generosity. If today you hear God’s voice.
In the gospel we hear of Jesus interrupting Matthew at his work collecting taxes. We have no idea whether or not they ever met before. Imagine this total stranger coming into Matthew’s life and saying ‘follow me’. Stranger yet is the fact that Matthew did just that. He left his tax booth and followed Jesus. Whatever happened between them certainly turned Matthew’s life around. To celebrate his transformation Matthew threw a party. He wanted to show off his new found friend, Jesus. Of course the only friends he had were tax collectors and sinners like himself.
When the Pharisees, who certainly weren’t invited and would never think of attending such a ‘do’ saw this, they could not understand how a holy rabbi could be seen with such a rabble. And we have their famous question, “why does your teacher, your rabbi, eat with tax collectors and sinners”? Its scandalous. He should be ashamed of himself.
Press on to know the Lord. The Pharisees learned nothing from the act of Jesus eating with these sinners. When you stop to think of it Jesus does this same thing at every Mass we celebrate. Here we are, sinners all. The first thing we do as we prepare to celebrate this Eucharist is to admit our failures to be grateful for the blessing that enrich our lives. But Jesus delights in our company, He is glad to be with us as our companion and our food. The sadness is, the Pharisees were so convinced of their own righteousness, their own closeness to God they couldn’t understand why Jesus would waste his time with the likes of Matthew and his friends. All the frustrated Jesus could say to them was ‘go and learn what this means,’ I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ If they really understood their Scriptures they would have known this. Time and again God told the people their mercy and justice toward one another was far more important than all the temple sacrifices. In fact their temple sacrifices were useless without mercy and justice.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass having heard the word of God inviting us to ‘press on to know the Lord’ and understanding that God makes Himself and His will known to us in all the events of our lives, and that He delights in our company, we can pray for ourselves and for each other that we always ‘press on to know the Lord’ as Jesus makes His love, his mercy, his compassion and his healing known to us in the ordinary living of our ordinary lives.