Readings: Hosea 14:2-10; Psalm 81; Mark 12:28-34
‘Take with you words’, the Lord says through the prophet Hosea. ‘Prepare a speech’ is another translation of the phrase. Like somebody trying to figure out the best words for a difficult meeting with another person, we are to think hard and decide on the best thing to say. ‘You have collapsed through your guilt’, the prophet says, which will make the people feel powerless and probably speechless. If it is so – and it is so, very often – what words can ever be adequate to bring with us into God’s presence?
And yet a simple effort at repentance, acknowledging their helplessness, immediately wins the Lord’s renewed attention and His renewed care. ‘I have humbled him but I will prosper him’. This in response to words that are ordinary, honest, and not dramatic. It means that any turning back towards the Lord immediately wins his forgiveness. Once again the father in the story of the Prodigal Son comes to mind, watching out for the first sign of the son’s return, ready to rush out to welcome him back.
We now say each day at Mass ‘say but the word and my soul shall be healed’. What word is it that will immediately heal the soul? One candidate is, clearly, the Word of God Himself, the Word incarnate in Jesus. Is this the word uttered by the Father and which effects the healing of our souls? Yes has to be the answer: Jesus is the one who saves us from our sins. It might also be the word ‘love’ or ‘come to me’ or ‘do not fear’ or ‘your sins are forgiven’ or ‘I will, be healed’. All of these simple words effect great things in the gospels: all that is needed on our side is the acknowledgment of our need and the request for help (however fumbling our words).
This faltering conversation between God who speaks a word to us and we finding words with which to come to him means we are ‘not far from the kingdom of God’. As long as the exchange continues we are in the right place. The temptation is to give up on the exchange, to stop the conversation, and then we are really lost. Pope Francis says that we tire of asking for forgiveness long before God tires of showing mercy. In fact God is tireless – infinite – in showing mercy. It encourages us to continue the Lenten journey, to continue trying to find words even when we know that what really counts is the word that comes from God. ‘Say but the word and my soul shall be healed’. Or (Hosea puts these words too on God’s lips) ‘because of me you bear fruit’.