We’ve passed the halfway point between Ash Wednesday and Easter. By my count there are 20 calendar days left. How are you doing? If you’re like me, you’re still hanging onto at least one of your Lenten resolutions, but there are one (or two) others that never really caught on, and that you abandoned somewhere between weeks one and two. Speaking for myself, I hope God won’t be too angry that I couldn’t give up desserts after 8:00 at night. (Don’t ask; it’s a long story involving an ice cream addiction and lactose intolerance…sometimes human biology makes no sense to me at all.)
Being the obedient Catholic that I (try to be and sometimes) am, I spilled my sinful guts to Father during confession. I confessed that I was just too weak to make even that small sacrifice. Oddly, he didn’t seem to care too much about me giving up ice cream. He said, that while he wasn’t trying to tell me what to do, that perhaps it might have been a better idea to resolve to do something good rather than use Lent as an excuse to try out a new diet plan.
Around 750 BC there was an Old Testament prophet named “Hosea.” In Chapter 6 of his book, Hosea told the Israelites that they had their relationship with God all wrong. God didn’t want a pile of bloody, burned sacrifices. God wanted something much greater. God wanted the Israelites to love one another. “For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than holocausts.” (Hosea 6:6).
This must have been one of Jesus’ favorite OT passages. He cited it twice, first in Matthew 9. He had just sat down to dinner with Matthew the tax-collector and his not-so-saintly friends. The Pharisees questioned Jesus about hanging out with sinners, and he told them to go back to Hosea and “learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
Then again in Matthew 12, the Pharisees were nagging Jesus about his disciples picking and eating grain on the sabbath. Jesus replied, “If you knew what this meant, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned these innocent men. For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.”
I learned somewhere that the Hebrew language used during Jesus’ time did not have “good, better, and best” versions of words. If something was more important, it would be emphasized by repetition. The angels describe God in Revelation by saying, “Holy, holy, holy,” to indicate that He is The Most High. In many places throughout His teaching, Jesus will say, “Truly, truly,” or “amen, amen” to make it clear that His next point is VERY important.
I try not to pretend that I’m a bible scholar (or any kind of scholar for that matter), but perhaps Jesus is trying to do the same thing by citing this passage from Hosea twice. Maybe He wants us to know that He really does want us to focus on mercy, on love, rather than on giving up ice cream. Maybe giving is a more important discipline during Lent than giving up. What do you think?