BLESSING AND CURSING,
reflections on verses from the prophets Amos and Hosea
Year 2, Week 13, Wednesday Glenroy 1976
“I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. … Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amos 5:21, 23-24
They are strong words, of the prophet Amos. These very feasts were established by God on Sinai. The people performed them correctly and frequented them assiduously. Yet God says: “I hate and despise your feasts”.
We may rightly wonder, does God say ‘” hate and despise your Masses. I loathe your sacraments and your church-going!”, even though they are of his institution.
At the time of Amos there was grave inequality between rich and poor. That is why God says: “Let me have no more of the din of your chanting … but let justice flow like water”.
Is this why the young reject our Masses? Do they see our ceremonies as the outcome of our mutual love? Are they the prophets from God, like Amos?
The very sacrifices God ordained have become hateful. Why is this?
Where the Spirit is absent the sacrifices become hateful, which is what happened in Amos’ time. But also how could they not inevitably become hateful? Being of transitory value, they have in themselves the seeds of their own destruction, arising from the Spirit, yet not fully spiritual. The Spirit that originally formed them also makes them obsolete, for the Spirit builds up and pulls down until all become Spirit. Only where there is fullness of Spirit is there full purity of action.
Amos realizes this. He looks forward to another time, to the full flowing of the Spirit, like an unfailing stream. Then there will be no offerings, no oblation, but the fullness of sacrifice.
To be with Spirit, to be of Spirit: that is the perfection of sacrifice, ‘in spirit and in truth’.
Year 2, Week 13, Thursday Glenroy 1976
“Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, 15and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’” Amos 7.14-15
The reign of Jeroboam was the most successful in the whole history of Israel. The shrines of Bethel and Dan were flourishing, yet Amos comes and curses them all, the king, the nation and the priest.
Amos startles them. He has no prophetic background and comes from another kingdom. The only thing that justifies him, the only thing that could possibly justify him is the Spirit that has fallen upon him. “It was the Lord who took me from herding the flock”. “It was the Lord who said: ‘Go prophesy to my people Israel’”.
Our own day longs for a prophet like Amos. People want to hear a word that is authoritative, which will uproot and plant, build up and cast down. People need to hear the prophet exposing the faults of society and Church. We want to hear the truth and find our faith strengthened.
Where shall we find the new Amos?
Year 2, Week 13, Friday Burwood 1982
“Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, … The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds. … The time is surely coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.” Amos 8.4, 7, 11
The words of Amos apply to our own day, for he lived at a time when the Northern Kingdom was economically very successful. Yet that success was a sham and was built upon rotten foundations.
Making money rather than engaging in worship, heaping riches at the expense of the poor: these sins are found in our own age. So too on our own age the words of condemnation are threatened. God promises disaster and lamentation to the Norther Kingdom. Will there be recession and depression in our day? Will there be worse still? “I will bring famine on the country, a famine not of bread, a drought not of water, but of hearing the word of the Lord”.
Those who have chosen Mammon must lie with it. In their hearts they will know they are condemned, but in their mind they will seek to reject the thought.
Amos announces the crime of the people: they have been unjust to man and unrighteous towards God; they have impoverished the poor and denied worship to the One who gave them the Promised Land.
Therefore, Amos announces the punishment. Firstly, universe will be shaken; the days will darken and the light will fail. Then society will collapse; feasts will be accompanied with weeping and bitterness will fill every day. Thirdly and worst of all, there will be silence. They will stagger from sea to sea, wandering from north to east, seeking the word of YHVH and failing to find it. They have been unjust to the poor; therefore, the natural order will collapse. They have been unjust towards God: therefore, God will be silent.
They may well seek the wisdom needed for preserving the Kingdom of Israel: God will not tell. God who spoke to his people will withhold his word. Without divine guidance they will perish.
Is not this prophecy of Amos also true for our time? The gross concern for success, for profit at the expense of poor nations; the refusal to allow the divine mind to form the human mind: these have brought unwisdom. Our society staggers.
Year 2, Week 14, Monday Glenroy 1976
“On that day, says the Lord, you will call me, “My husband,” and no longer will you call me, “My Baal.” Hosea 2:16
The people of Israel had been affected by Canaan and its gods. They were forgetting their experience in the desert and started addressing God as ‘Baal’.
Hosea fights against this. He looks forward to a renewal of religion in Israel which will involve both a turning away from Baal and a deepening of the relationship with God. Turning away and deepening go together. God will be a husband to Israel, a loving spouse, no longer a God of armies and thunder and smoke.
We are in danger, in our own day, of taking on too much of the mentality of the modern world. There is a lot of humanism, a lot of worship of creation and man in his natural state. We too must turn away from that diluting of our religion. We seek the divine; beware lest we end up with the merely human.
There is no need to look to the past, no need to look to the heavens, no need to look even at images of Christ. We look at all who are of good will and, behind the outward appearances, sense the Spirit, and see the everlasting Christ and the eternal Father of all.
Israel thought that a magical relationship with the fertility god of the Canaanites, would be more productive than worshipping the storm God of Sinai. The prophet, by contrast, reveals how much closer, more enriching and mutual, is the bond between Israel and YHVH.
How much closer, ever closer, will the relationship with God become, indeed! For a time will come when the human creature, made eternal by the power of God, will say ‘I am’; when the human race will bow down in worship not only of the Word made flesh, but also of each human being made one with the Word Incarnate. The flesh as flesh, but flesh redeemed and therefore truly flesh, will receive the worship accorded to the Infinite. Humans will speak with the authority of God. God will speak in them. They will speak in God. There are no limits to closeness with the Transcendent.
A time will come, when human beings will no longer call their neighbour ‘Fellow’ but will call them, ‘My God’. No longer will they seek God in the skies, but will look and find God all around, in themselves and in their companions.
Hoppers Crossing, 1988
At the time of Hosea, the gods of Canaan were given the title ‘Baal’. It was customary, also, for a wife to address her husband as ‘My Baal’, ‘My Lord’. It implied a relationship that was indeed grand, but it was aloof also.
God, through the prophet Hosea, tells of his wish to draw his people to a relationship that was more intimate and equal, more affectionate and closer. No longer will his people call him ‘My Baal’, they will call him ‘My Husband’.
Jesus wishes that God be in us and we in God, through his body. This intimacy and equality are to surpass even the closeness of husband and wife. The identity of substance will be complete in the unity of the Holy Spirit. God and his creation will not be separate but enjoy a oneness of substance, as it were, and a communion of Persons.
Thus, we look forward to the closest possible union between ourselves and our God.
Year 2, Week 14, Tuesday Hoppers Crossing, 1988
“Your calf is rejected, O Samaria.… an artisan made it;it is not God.The calf of Samariashall be broken to pieces.” Hosea 8:5-6
During the period of the Kings, there was more than one temple in the Holy Land. Jerusalem did not yet have the outstanding position it would hold after the return from exile in Babylon. In the Northern Kingdom there was the great Temple at Bethel, the national Temple.
The people of Israel, had no graven image of God, in marked contrast to the surrounding nations who had many gods and many images of their many gods.
God exceeds any created thing. Not only must there be no images in wood or metal, there must be no images in our imagination. God transcends any idea that can be had of him. It is true that Jesus reveals the Father perfectly, but he is no graven image. It is Jesus raised by the Father who reveals the Father completely and is his perfect image.
Yet the people of Israel formed images of metal and wood. Therefore, the ‘calf of Samaria’ will be consumed, like all images, in the fire of the Holy Spirit.
Hoppers Crossing, 1988
“Though they offer choice sacrifices, though they eat flesh, the Lord does not accept them.” Hosea 8:13
Instead of the living God to whom all sacrifice is due, they loved the meat of sacrifice. They have turned away from the One who is life beyond meat, substance beyond flesh. To love meat is to find one’s body starved. To live in God is to find one’s flesh nourished. To be with God is to find the being of one’s being and to be of God is to be abiding despite decay.
The Lord takes no pleasure in that meat. The lover of God likewise takes no pleasure in that meat but the living One and so finds his own flesh made firm experiencing every pleasure. The living God takes delight in the one who draws life from him, and from that life comes joy indescribable, subtle, overwhelming, in the flesh made spirit.
Year 2, Week 14, Wednesday Glenroy 1976
“Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit. The more his fruit increased the more altars he built; as his country improved, he improved his pillars.” Hosea 10:1
Israel has come from the desert, destined to possess the promised land. They conquer it but corruption begins. With the goods, they also take up the idols of the land What began well ends in disaster.
The strength of faith has given the Christian world prime position among the nations, for they are, in the main, the wealthy nations. Yet they are becoming idolatrous. Altars are erected to idols as wealth is amassed beyond what is necessary. The accumulation is becoming sinful.
We cannot, in the face of poor countries, continue to live in our present affluence. God is not found there, but in greater poverty. Idolatry is a subtle thing, for it retains the outward forms, even when the Spirit is gone. The right words and gestures continue, but there is no substance. What began as promised land is turning into Gehenna.
“The high places of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed. Thorn and thistle shall grow upon their altars. They shall say to the mountains, Cover us, and to the hills, Fall on us.” Hosea 10:8
Jesus says these words to the women of Jerusalem as he carries his cross to Calvary. With that quote from Hosea he condemns the idolatry of those who would not recognize him.
The Northern Kingdom had raised altars to the Baals and the Astartes. Instead of the God of Israel they worshipped the gods of the Canaanites. Therefore, the very places they used as worship have now become their tombs. The shrines they had raised are now asked to fall on them, to cover their shame, to remove their suffering.
Jesus condemns his opponents for their idolatry. While they preserved the name of God and the outward show of religion, they did not revere him, for if they had worshipped the true God truly, they would have recognized his Christ. They are condemning themselves even as they lead him out for crucifixion.
There is no comfort in mouthing the name of God. Nor do the externals of worship prove much. True knowledge enables true worship of the true God.
East Doncaster, 1992
“Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.” Hosea 10:12
The prophet begins by speaking of his time and of our time too. The more prosperous the people have become the more they have turned to idolatry. ‘The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built’. So, in our time, the growth of prosperity in our country has coincided with the growth of materialism and religious indifference.
The prophet gives a warning: “Then they will say: ‘We have no king because we have not feared the Lord’.”(Ho 10:15) The same warning is given to our society as well. With religious indifference there will be a breakdown of the social order. Laws will be circumvented. Commitment will disappear. Marriage will break down. The stronger will rule, and their rule will be by fear.
Then the advice is given: ‘break up your fallow ground’. The fallow ground is the land that has not been ploughed and remains still virgin soil, often wild but bearing much promise. So too there is need in our Church to discover new ways, to break new ground, to engage in lateral thinking.
For this reason, I have begun this interest in Tantra. It is fallow ground as far as the Church is concerned. It provides the means of a new insight into the perennial gospel. Let us explore this new direction and see if the Lord will “rain salvation on us” as surely he will.
Year 2, Week 14, Thursday Glenroy 1976
“I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.” Hosea 11:9
God’s whole intention is the good of his people. He has proved this by the tenderness of his care in calling Israel, in leading him through the desert, in feeding him and bringing him to the Promised Land. Yet this same God has to bring Ephraim to his senses. And so, though he recoils from it and he trembles at the thought, he brings about evil.
God’s whole intention is human good. But humans learn and change through suffering. In choosing to create evolving humanity he involves himself in a world where destruction is a necessary ingredient. God does not simply allow evil, he actually brings it about – but the final purpose is good. There is no other way. God, by foreknowledge and design, brings his Son to the cross, but the aim is his glorification as Lord and Christ. His purpose is not evil but good.
Hoppers Crossing 1988
“… it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms.” Hosea 11:3
From God we have come, to God we are destined.
From the very start he has loved us and at the very end he will receive us into his heart.
There can be no other place that satisfies us.
We were conceived in love and brought forth in love.
Nurtured and weaned and educated in love there can be no destiny which satisfies except to be constantly held in his arms, secure and eternally present there.
This is the highest joy for us and for him the outcome of his play of love.
Year 2, Week 14, Friday Glenroy 1976
“Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses; we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy.” In you the orphan finds compassion”. Hosea 14:3
The orphan becomes child of God through the Holy Spirit. The Son of God becomes an orphan through sin. We were orphans, for there was a time when the Holy Spirit did not move in us, but Jesus was always Son of God for the Holy Spirit never ceased to inspire him.
The Holy Spirit comes to us, not by our efforts, but by God’s compassion. When we are at a loss, then God can make us gain. God’s compassion is a healing, an active changing of our bodies and hearts.
He grants us his Spirit by which when we acknowledge our sin, by which we cease to depend on ourselves and await his Spirit. He gives us his Spirit powerfully when we try to make up for the harm we have done. He gives us his Spirit publicly when we acknowledge our sin before the Church. He gives us his Spirit most perfectly when we receive the sacrament of the altar.
Then we too become children of God and we stand next to Christ in equality: he the source, we the beneficiaries, but equal now in the gift. We are not fully moved, he is fully moved. We resist. He never resisted. A time was when he still had to be raised in the Spirit. A time will come when we are fully moved, when we shall all be one, he in us and we in him, all equal, standing before Him who is all in all.
“They shall again live beneath my shadow, they shall flourish as a garden; they shall blossom like the vine, their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon. O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you.” Hosea 14:7-8
The pattern is so constant: the people turn to idols, disaster strikes in punishment, hope is held out: “He shall bloom like the vine”.
The pattern is repeated in every age since grace and sin are of every time. We too have our idols, although they are nameless. Idolatry has become anonymous.
The hidden idol of our day is ‘mammon’. But “What has Ephraim to do with idols anymore?” There is no substance to this idol of mammon. Its promises are empty and cannot bring pleasure. “Assyria cannot save us”.
Hoppers Crossing 1988
“I will fall like dew on Israel.” Hosea 14:6-7
United to God with heart and mind and body, acknowledging God as the One who transcends the human condition, as the One from whom all come
and to whom all are destined, when falseness of heart disappears, then his blessings come upon the earth, falling gently from above like the dew, coming into mind and thought, watering without violence, refreshing quietly and fully, giving strength to every faculty, hope to the heart and energy to the limbs, bliss and every happiness.
We shall bloom like the lily and thrust out shoots like the poplar, beautiful as the olive and fragrant as the high mountains of Lebanon.
East Doncaster, 1992
“I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily, he shall strike root like the forests of Lebanon.”Hosea 14:6
After expressing anger at the misdeeds of the people, the prophet now describes the healing that will come. He uses imagery taken from nature.
Our imagery is different for is taken from the Spirit and his effects in the flowering of mercy, in the great drama of the Church, the holiness of the saints, the courage of the martyrs, the schools of philosophy and theology, the works of art and humanity: these are the fruitfulness of the Church to whom the mercy of Above has been made known.