Fathers and children may symbolize God’s disciplining and love, with prayers freeing the children from fears and want.
As the Lectionary continues its selections from Israel’s prophetic books, we have two weeks of readings from the book of Hosea. Hosea was a younger contemporary of Amos, but more importantly Hosea lived and spoke as a native of the northern kingdom of Israel instead of as a charismatic visitor to that kingdom as Amos was. The two prophetic books differ significantly in style and basic theme: Amos gives us the Justice of God determining Israel’s life; Hosea gives us the Love of God determining Israel’s life.
Hosea condemns the constant turning away of Israelites from the Lord Yahweh to “the baals” or to Baal, Yahweh’s arch opponent in the Elijah tradition. Israelites were attributing the cyclical works of nature to the baals, Hosea’s message insists, instead of to the one God in Israel’s life, Yahweh. (Hosea 2:5, 8; 11:2; 13:1)
What is going on here, and had been going on before Hosea’s time, is a great demythologizing of the millennia-long essence of Canaanite religion. As we see Canaanite mythology in its Ugaritic epics, the cosmic world was shaped by the interplay of the gods Baal (lord or master), Yamm (cosmic Sea), Mot (Death), and Anath (virgin-sister-consort who avenges Baal’s death by slaughtering Mot). In this mythic cycle Baal fights intensely against the lord of chaos, Yamm, and having defeated him establishes a great temple. The power of Death (Mot), however, overcomes Baal, who dies as the season of drought and barrenness prevails in the world. Anath pursues Mot, threshes him into small pieces which are sown over the fields, and makes possible the gospel of the new season: Baal lives! (See, among many discussions, John Day, “Baal (Deity),” The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Doubleday 1992, Vol. I, pp. 545-49.)
The daring thing about Hosea is the way the language of Canaan has been taken into the Israelite tradition. The language of the love between gods has become the language of love between Yahweh and Yahweh’s people.
In our passage, we have a report of Hosea being told by God to enact in the social life of his city a parable of this love of God. Go find a woman who has the qualities and perhaps the established practice of a professional whore. (See the details of such a life when Tamar temporarily adopts the life of a zōnāh in Genesis 38:12-23.) Such a woman by the nature of her social status does not maintain a single relationship in her sexual activities. She lives by the payments of many lovers. Hosea is to take such a woman, marry her — thus setting up a single relationship for her — and have children by her.
The real point of the enacted prophecy is the names given to the three children. The names announce progressive devastation for the northern kingdom. The first child, “Jezreel,” means defeat in war, “I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel” (verse 5, NRSV). The second child, “Lo-ruhamah” [not-compassioned], means lack of compassion in a time of distress (verse 6). And the third child, “Lo-ammi” [not-my-people], means a complete denial of the covenant relationship, “for you are not my people and I am not your God” (verse 9). The parable demonstrates that up to this point the love of God is only disappointed and defeated. God’s partner is a whore, and the children’s names symbolize the alienation between them.
However, as in the old Canaanite ethos, death and alienation is not the last word. It is clear that some words of hope were inserted by later Judeans who preserved the Hosea tradition (so verse 7), but elsewhere in this book Hosea experiences God as disciplining, not totally destroying, Israel. We will see this especially in next week’s reading, but here (verse 10), the transmitters of Hosea’s words were compelled to look beyond total alienation between God and Israel. The reversal will come. “Not my people” will again be called “Children of the living God.”
The Psalm reading is a liturgy for those waiting for the reversal that Hosea’s disciples added to his enacted prophecy.
The first word of the liturgy recalls the past reversals from God’s anger to God’s graciousness, when God “restored the fortunes of Jacob” (verses 1-3). Thus there is precedent from the past for God’s gracious restoration of the people. The second word is a prayer in the present calling upon God to “Restore us again! … Will you be angry with us forever?” (verses 4-7). Then we hear a speaker in the first person concentrating full attention on the divine word of salvation which is about to be uttered from the sanctuary (verses 8-9). Finally, the liturgy culminates in the glowing prospect of what can be expected when God does speak the word of salvation (verses 10-13).
Here the covenant qualities are personified. “Steadfast love” (hesed), “faithfulness” (or “truth,” ‘emeth), and “righteousness” (sedeq) interact like independent powers, meeting, kissing, growing from the ground, descending from heaven. Their blessings are summarized, “the Lord will give what is good,” and all will know that God’s people are restored.
Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)
If Hosea shows the love of a supreme God who displaces all former local powers, the Epistle reading carries a similar message about the heavenly reign of the risen Christ. The all-encompassing Christ sung of in the hymn in Colossians 1:15-20 is here presented as the overlord or ruler of all powers, visible or invisible, that might compete for lordship over the lives and conduct of the Baptized ones.
Beginning at 2:8, the writer of Colossians is opposing some superstitious teachings and practices that are growing among Christians in the cities of the Lycus valley (Colossae, Laodicea, Hierapolis). Much scholarly ink has flowed attempting to describe this misguided teaching, but here is one brief summary of the “philosophy” and “vain deceit” that were tempting these early Christians.
God’s fullness [technical term] is distributed throughout a series of emanations from the divine, stretching from heaven to earth. These “aeons” or offshoots of deity must be venerated and homage paid to them as ‘elemental spirits’ or angels or gods inhabiting the stars. They rule men’s destiny and control human life, and hold the entrance into the divine realm in their keeping. Christ is one of them, but only one among many. (Ralph P. Martin, Colossians and Philemon, New Century Bible Commentary [W. B. Eerdmans, 1992, original 1973], p. 9.)
In addition to the ideas, there were religious practices, some from Jewish sources, some from other sources (see particularly verses 16-22), that were intended to help believers achieve ecstasy or visions and raptures. “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.” This is the judgment at the end of the passage from which our reading is taken (2:23, NRSV).
These early Christians were tempted to include horoscopes, astrological readings, and various hallucinatory rituals in their religious life to enhance what Christ did for them. The writer insists that the Christ who was the fullness of divine reality, who took on the flesh of circumcision and death, this Christ who died and rose again, now reigns over all such superstitious powers. All the believer needs is the baptism that is a dying to the worldly powers and the rising to a new life in God’s power free from all the demons and spirits of a misguided universe. “He [Christ] disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it [his triumphal procession]” (verse 15).
Taken in this series of texts, the Gospel reading offers the life of prayer as the answer to the ongoing needs of the Lord’s disciples. The whole passage Luke 11:1-13 is about prayer, with the Lord’s Prayer in Luke’s version at its head. The whole is bracketed by expressions describing God’s fatherly character, the Father addressed in the model prayer (verse 2) and the human father who knows how to give good gifts to his children (verses 11-13; verse 11 reads literally, “what father among you…”). Most of what is between the brackets is about persistence in asking the father for what is needed, especially bread or other food.
Outside of the Gospel According to John, God is not spoken of much as father in the Gospels. Yet is appears to be the term used by Jesus in critical and personal times, for example, in Mark 14:36, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me…” Scholars have concluded that the Aramaic, Abba, would have been a very intimate word between child and father, verging on “Daddy.” The prayer taught to the disciples, then, asks that this family head be honored and esteemed at his true worth by all others (hallowed be his name), that his plan for everyone’s welfare may succeed (his kingdom come), and, in relation to his children who accompany him on his campaign (daily bread = daily rations), that they have food as needed, that they be forgiven their misdemeanors, and that the trials they encounter not be excessive.
The following teaching about asking and receiving elaborates on common human expectations. The “friend” asked for bread in the middle of the night cannot be expected to respond simply out of friendship, but will respond to a neighbor in need (the previous chapter just told about the Good Samarian).
Furthermore, doors were made not only to keep people out, but for knocking on. Keep on knocking, is the wisdom here.
And in the business of giving, trust the giver, perhaps a fatherly type, to know what to give. It won’t be a snake instead of a fish. This theme suggests that we may not know what we most need, but can trust the fatherly giver to provide it, allowing us to then recognize what our need truly is.
Finally, the supreme gift that the heavenly Father knows we need is the gift of the Holy Spirit (verse 13), and that will be provided for those who continue the “journey” of the Christ right on to Jerusalem — and beyond.