Words from Fr. Frank Cordaro

June 9, 2002

Tenth Sunday Ordinary Time 2002

Hos 6:3-6, Rom 4:18-25, Mt 9:9-13

Hosea 6:3-6

The prophet Hosea came from the northern kingdom of Israel. It is not clear what his daytime job was. Some believe he was a priest, others that he was a member of a prophetic school. What is known about Hosea is that he had an unhappy marriage. Gomer, his wife, was an adulteress. She often played the town whore. His unfortunate marital problems greatly influenced his prophetic message. For Hosea, Gomerís adultery came to symbolize Israelís unfaithfulness to God. And just as Hosea could not bring himself to leave Gomer, even when she played the harlot, Yahweh would not disown Israel, despite Israelís unfaithful behavior. Israelís infidelity took the form of idolatry and oppression against the poor. No amount of ritual sacrifice and well-done liturgy could make up for Israelís sinful ways. Hoseaís writings reveal a very sensitive, emotional man who could pass quickly from violent anger to the deepest tenderness. He is the first of the Old Testament writers to compare Israelís relationship to God as one of a marriage, albeit an unfaithful one at that.

For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than holocausts. (Hosea 6:6) In this weekís text Hosea observes that only after an affliction do people turn to God for help. Hosea compares Israelís (Ephraim) and Judahís pious acts as insincere and shallow, like a "morning cloud" or "early dew" that passes quickly. Hosea says God desires love and knowledge of God rather than empty sacrifice and well-done holocausts, standard fare for prophetic utterances. Only in Hoseaís care we know it is personal, a prophet who takes his work home with him every night. Romans 4: 18-25, Abraham believed, hoping against hope. Paulís letter to the Romans was the last of his epistles. It is his most developed, systematic heological effort of all his letters. This weekís selection comes from a section dealing with justification through faith in Jesus. In chapter four Paul uses Abraham as an example of someone who was justified by faith alone. Paul is famous for his uncompromising conviction that we are saved by faith and not by works, by the power of God and not by any power of our own. This bedrock position of Paulís is understandable, given his pre-conversion religious beliefs. Before his encounter with Jesus, Paul was a zealot Pharisee. He believed in unqualified obedience to the Jewish laws as the only way to righteousness. For the pre-converted Paul, only Jews, and only those who observed the Jewish laws had claim to Godís favor.

Throughout his converted life, Paul desperately tried to present the way of Jesus as the authentic and truest fulfillment of the Jewish faith. In Romans Paul makes a case for both Jew and Gentile to embrace Jesus. He goes all the way back to Father Abraham to make his point. Before there was a temple and a temple priesthood, before there was a Mosaic law and Davidic covenant, before there was a written text and prophetic tradition, even before circumcision, there was Abrahamís faith and Godís promise.

In this weekís text, Paul says Abraham believed, hoping against hope, that Godís promise to make him and Sara the father and mother of many nations and Godís chosen people would come true despite Abrahamís advanced age of one hundred years and Saraís barren womb. Paul then reasons that just as Abraham was credited as righteous for his faith in God promise, so also all: Jews and Gentiles alike, who put their faith in the one who raised Jesus will be saved by their faithfulness.

We can only imagine the freeing experience Paulís encounter with Jesus must have been for him. Paul was raised with a burden of law and tradition that robbed him and his contemporaries of the liberating Spirit of God, the very same spirit upon which Jewish faith rests. With his encounter with the resurrected Jesus, Paul got a whole new start, one based on the power of God and not his own. All he and anyone else who wants to follow Jesus must do is put their faith in a promise they canít prove, hoping against hope, despite all appearances that Godís Will will be done, betting their life on it by following the way of Jesus.

Matthew 9:9-13, The call of a tax collector and mercy, not sacrifice: This weekís gospel from Matthew comes from a section of the synoptic gospels that stays intact in all three gospels; Mark 2:1-22, Matthew 9:1-17, and Luke 5:17-39. This section has three parts; the healing of a paralytic, the call of a tax collector, and questions about fastings. This weekís gospel is Matthewís version of the call of the tax collector. Matthew is the only one of the 3 who names the tax collector Matthew the Apostle, presumable the author of the gospel.

The call of the tax collector can be divided into two parts, the call and table fellowship with sinners. The account of the call is very direct and short, all of one verse (Matt. 9:9). Jesus walks by, sees Matthew at his tax collecting "customs post" Jesus says to him "Follow me." Matthew immediately left his post and became a follower of Jesus. Similar to the call of Peter, Andrew, James and John (Matt 4:18-22) there is not character development, no personal struggle or discernment process reported. Just the briefest description of the call and Matthewís acceptance, nothing more. There were all types of tax collectors. Some tax collectors worked for the Romans and others worked for local and regional governing authorities like King Herod or the Temple authorities. Some tax collectors controlled large areas and became very rich. Most tax collectors worked for larger tax collectors and barely made a living. Customs tax collectors like Matthew paid a fixed sum for the right to collect customs duties within an area. Since whatever they collected above this amount was theirs to keep, abuse was wide spread. For this reason Jewish customs duty collectors were considered sinners, out cast to society and disgraced along with theit families. Note: The profession of custom post tax collectors is hardly a thing of the past. Word from DM Catholic Worker, Richard Flamer, who left DM with two truck loads of tools and supplies for a Mayan self help Indian center in San Cristabal de LaCusas in Chiapas, Mexico in Feb is that the two vehicles and most of the supplies were stranded in Guatemala. Richard could only afford to pay a duty tax to drive the trucks and supplies through Mexico to the border of Guatemala. Once in Guatemala, he hoped to get a better deal with the customs duty people to bring the trucks and supplies back into Mexico. The local Guatemala customs people took him to the cleaners. He had to sell one of the trucks and give half of the supplies to friends in Guatemala before he could afford to bring the remaining truck and supplies to San Cristabal. Itís not hard to see why such tax collectors were disliked in Jesusí day. They are not real likeable today either - just ask Richard.

Table fellowship with sinners: After a one-verse call to discipleship the gospel quickly shifts to the issue of table fellowship with sinners. Back at "his" house, Jesus and his disciples are eating with "tax collectors and sinners". The text is not clear whose house they were eating. Itís either Jesusí or Matthewís. The focus shifts from the call of Matthew to the Phariseesí complaint to Jesusí disciples about their dinner company. Meal times were very important occasions in a first century Mediterranean household. Much more than meeting physical needs for nourishment were taking place. Well-defined dynamics of social, political, economic and cultural systems were played out around the dinner table. All was done in the context of a patriarchal society with a honor-shame, clean-unclean value system Some of the most radical counter cultural things Jesus did took place around table fellowship. Give that most of the economic, political, social and religious activities and decisions were done at mealtime, this makes sense. There are the many parables about banquets, about who is invited, who donít show up and who ends up attending. Thereís the parable outlining the new rules for party giving, where guest seek the lowest seats and host invite the lowest people. There are stories where women break the gender line of table fellowship to reach Jesus with their concerns. All the mass feeding of thousands at a time completely debunk the social order of proper table fellowship.

This weekís gospel account of Jesus and his disciples having table fellowship with tax collectors and sinners is another radical counter cultural table fellowship teaching. The Pharisees raise the question with Jesusí disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners"? Are there not ritual impurity laws? Isnít Jesus breaking them? YES HE IS! In fact Jesus is in a virtual crime wave throughout the recorded gospels. How is ongoing outlaw activity remains hidden, and unrecognized by his modern day followers is beyond me.

Jesus uses this opportunity to say something beyond ritual impurity laws to the heart of his ministry. Itís about love and forgiveness. Doctors are for sick people he tells the Pharisees. He tells them to go back and learn what the prophet Hosea meant when he said of God in todayís first reading, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." (Hosea 6:6)

Mercy: Hosea had valid grounds to divorce Gomer, his wife. She was shoring around on him. A clear case of adultery. No one would have faulted him for divorcing her. In fact most would have insisted he do at least that much to protect the dignity of the marriage bond. There was also the option of stoning.

Yet Hosea could not bring himself to divorce her. He decided to continue to love her, forgiving her, showing mercy, no matter how unfaithful she was to him. Hosea learned a lesson from God who would not stop loving. Forgiving and showing mercy to Israel despite her unfaithfulness. Jesusí teaching is an extension of Hoseaís knowledge of God, that love, mercy and forgiveness is what God is all about, itís unlimited and unconditional, always there regardless of the disposition of the sinner.

Not sacrifice: Sacrifice is the ritualization of faith in a public and communal expression of prayer. It is only authentic if it is the expression of the prayer beliefs of those participating. And inner beliefs are made known by the quality of relationships and behavior. Both Hosea and Jesus faulted their fellow Jews who performed proper sacrifice and sacred rituals yet did not have the inner beliefs signified by the rituals they performed.

Faith, not works, is called for: In this weekís second reading Paul addresses the same concern from another perspective. Paulís Jewish contemporaries believed themselves righteous by virtue of their being born Jewish, observing the Jewish laws and rituals. Paul tells us that no one, Jews or Gentiles can earn what God gives freely. Faith in a free loving God is the only avenue to godís unconditional love and unlimited forgiveness and mercy. It is in the words, "Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice" (Matt. 9:13) that all three readings come together this week.