As you have heard me say on more than one occasion, when the word “Love” appears in the Scriptures, we must be careful that we don’t confuse the scriptural sense of this word with our cultural notion of romantic love. When Hosea preaches that God asks for love rather than sacrifices and for knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings, he is not speaking of romantic love in any way. The Hebrew word “hesed” is often translated as loving kindness, but it also carries the sense of faithfulness. God’s love is the embodiment of kindness, but it is also the paragon of faithfulness. This is the kind of love to which we are all called. This is the kind of love which God expects of us.
In Israel’s culture, “hesed” existed only in the family or clan or tribe, never between strangers or foreigners. However, when God declared himself a kinsman or blood relative of Israel, then the bond of such relationship was rooted in God and applied to all equally, for all belonged to God and consequently in one another’s family.
For this reason the words of the Scriptures sprang from the depths of such an intimate relationship between Israel and the Lord. Israel’s words became inspired with God’s life, ideals, and response, because her words were born of a relationship or union between God and Israel.
This explains why God hears every prayer, for prayer springs from the common life or “blood” shared by Israel and God. But we ought to comprehend as well why such words can destroy. To mouth such words from a heart separated from God and from one’s neighbor is to make use of intimate symbols like a kiss or a caress to mock and to betray.
Where love, however, is deep, and its experience genuine, then it is characterized by exquisite wonder, awesome fear, humble unworthiness, delicate concern over the least infraction. It does not brag, for it never does enough. Such a person, Jesus tells us, is the publican. The Pharisee’s piety, on the contrary, is a “morning cloud.” It evaporates quickly. Because it looked good, it pretends to be good just as the Pharisee’s “goodness” is nothing but show while the publican expresses genuine faithfulness and love.
Our Lenten journey calls us to such faithfulness and love. May we, like the publican, reach that desired end.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator