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Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A, June 8, 2008

First reading, Hosea 6:3-6

The Historical Situation: Hosea lived in a time of serious degradation, socially, religiously and politically. Israel shouldn't have had kings in the first place, and the kings they had were more interested in compromising alliances with pagan nations than in domestic justice. The priests didn't teach, and the people remained ignorant. Worship of the one true God, who had brought these people up out of the land of Egypt, was indiscriminately mixed with worship of Canaanite deities, worship notorious for its use of sacred prostitution.

Hosea addressed this corruption in a novel and compelling way. He is the first to describe the regard of God for the people as like the love of a husband for his wife. And the offense that God takes at Israel's sin is like the outrage of the husband of an adulterous wife. Indeed Hosea was married to such a woman, and he uses his experience to illuminate his teaching. He teaches that the Lord will receive back his unfaithful people after they have endured a period of repentance and proven themselves. [There is more to the Hosea story and prophecy, but this is enough to "set up" this Sunday's reading.]

Proclaiming It: You might give the congregation this simple introduction:
In the first few sentences of this reading, the prophet is speaking for the people.
In the latter half, the prophet speaks in the voice of God.

Contrast the two speakers in this passage. First, the repentant people express their resolve to behave more faithfully: "Let us strive to know the Lord." They assure themselves that the Lord's love for them is as certain as dawn.

After you read the people's thoughts, pause a moment, and assume the voice of the Lord. Now you're like a jealous husband still skeptical of your unfaithful wife's reform. You shake your head and ask "What can I do with you?" [Of Israel's twelve tribes, Ephraim and Judah were the most populous in the northern and southern kingdoms, respectively, of the Lord's people at this time. Decide now how you will pronounce "Ephraim." And don't mistake "piety" for "pity" in the next sentence. Forgive me if that insults your intelligence, but I've heard lectors make this and other astonishing mispronunciations, so I err on the side of caution.] The references to smiting and slaying the people through the prophets mean this: Prophets announce the inescapable consequences of sinful behavior: The kings and the people mixed it up with the pagans, and the pagans stabbed them in the back. They should have known better. You live by the sword, you die by the sword.

Our Liturgical Setting: The last sentence, "for it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than holocausts," will be paraphrased in the responsorial psalm and quoted by Jesus in today's gospel. In the Hosea context, it's a criticism of the practice of substituting religious ritual for faithful behavior, as if one could get God to wink at unfaithfulness by "honoring" God with some lavish ceremony. Say the sentence slowly, with emphasis, so that when the congregation hears it again in the gospel, it has another chance to get the attention of those who really need to hear it.

Second Reading, Romans 4:18-25

The Theological Background: Much of Romans is a painstaking investigation of the meaning of faith. How does believing in Jesus allow us to be saved? Why is belief in Jesus better than what others have tried in order to be saved? Paul wants to convince Jewish Christians that their Jewish Law, by itself, had not given them salvation, and that they had not earned God's love by keeping the Law, however well or poorly. One of his concerns was to prevent Jewish Christians from imposing the Law on Gentile converts to Christ. And for Paul, the alternative to the Law is faith.

A Powerful Lesson from History: In chapter 4, from which today's passage comes, Paul plays an ace. He argues that Abraham, first to hear the voice of God, father of the people who became the Jews, unquestionable patriarch and exemplar, was right with God because of his faith, not because of his works, not because of the Law. Our passage is a fraction of the chapter. Here Paul emphasizes the aspect of faith that is believing in the promises of God, however unlikely they seem. [A thumbnail sketch of Abraham for those who have forgotten: Prosperous but childless, Abraham had heard God's promise that he would have many descendants. He and his wife Sarah waited many decades for the fulfillment of the promise to even begin, then they finally had a child, Isaac.]

Proclaiming It: Consider refreshing the memories of your listeners with this simple introduction:
Saint Paul uses the patriarch Abraham as an example today. Remember that Abraham and his wife Sarah were prosperous but childless until very late in their lives.

It's not an easy passage to proclaim, for the sentences are long. Remember Paul's purpose: to make faith seem necessary, good and powerful, and to illustrate faith in the life of Abraham. Consider the sentences one by one, and decide how you'll use your tone of voice to make each one contribute to Paul's argument. Notice how the first three sentences begin:

Say slowly the next sentence, "That is why it was credited to him as righteousness."

Then Paul turns the argument toward us, applying the lesson: righteousness will be credited to us (a way of saying we'll be made right with God) who believe in Jesus.

A Theological Reflection: If this all leaves you a bit puzzled, consider this explanation (not the only possible explanation, but a good one). Faith is admitting that I can't make myself righteous in God's eyes by anything I do, and faith is believing that God loves me anyway, not because of my deeds, but because of God's love.

In 2008, Lector's Notes featured this extended reflection on what faith means in the Letter to the Romans.

For more on Romans, click here to see relevant Lectionary passages and Lector's Notes.

Extra! Each Sunday passage from Romans in context: Click here to see a table summarizing the readings from Romans from the 9th to the 24th Sundays of Ordinary Time, this year.

Several other commentaries on these passages. All are thoughtful, all quite readable, from the scholarly to the popular.
Links may be incomplete more than a few weeks before the "due date."
Lutheran pastor and college teacher Dan Nelson's notes for a study group Father Roger Karban's column on these readings from 2002,

and his 2005 column

Father Frank Cleary's column about these readings, from 2002.

The Text This Week; links to homilies, art works, movies and other resources on the week's scripture themes Saint Louis University's excellent new liturgy site

Most welcome here are Reginald Fuller's commentaries.

The Lectionary selections in the frame at the left, if any, are there for your convenience. The publishers of the page in that frame have no connection, except for membership in the one Body of Christ, with the publisher of this page. Likewise the publishers of the pages on the links above.

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Last modified: May 29, 2008