IT IS LOVE I DESIRE, NOT SACRIFICE. Jesus had a particular appreciation of this text which he cites from the prophet Hosea. St. Matthew records another occasion when the Lord quotes these same words in justification for actions that, in the eyes of the Pharisees, violated the law of Moses. Whereas here, he is criticized for allowing his followers to satisfy their hunger by plucking grain and eating it on the Sabbath, on that other occasion, it was because he ate with sinners- one of whom was Matthew himself, the converted tax-collector, that his critics complained. Because his own person was in question, rather than simply assert his own authority with words of his own, Jesus quotes a prophet, acknowledged and highly respected by the Pharisees, to whose teaching his actions fully conform.
While the prophets of Israel preached against all violations of God's law, they well appreciated the fact that not all the prescriptions of the Mosaic law were equally binding. There is a hierarchy of values which God's commandments intend to preserve and assure in practice. The first and supreme duty is to honor God alone as the sole Lord of all; the second is to love one's neighbor. Hosea in this text asserts this principle with all desirable clarity. The purpose of the law is to inculcate a loving, trusting, loyal relationship with God. This is the meaning of the word chesed used by Hosea that is translated as "love" in our version. Interestingly, the Septuagint, which is the version in which Jesus's citation is given here, translates chesed by the Greek term eleos whose original meaning is mercy. Whereas "love" often describes the interior affection and attraction one person has for another, chesed, like the English mercy has reference to some act of kindness. It is essentially social, directed to another's well-being, and practical. Words commonly associated with it are loyalty and faithfulness which are concrete expressions of attachment to another.
In practicing chesed the creature imitates God himself of whom Moses said when he promulgated the law at Sinai: "Lord, Lord, you are God who are affectionate and gracious, patient, plenteous in mercy (chesed) and fidelity (Exodus 34.5)." Recovering the original likeness to God, then, entails the practice of mercy to our neighbor. This is the way to fulfill the intent of the law; it is the very purpose of the law in fact. By showing such mercy to others we practice that same practical love of God that He shows us. This is the very heart of Jesus' message as appears from a number of other passages in the Gospels.
Our Lord, by the example of his life, especially by his passion and death, revealed new depths of meaning to the term chesed . This form of loving mercy, while preferred to exterior sacrifice, in order to be genuine, must always also be associated with justice and fidelity; it has as its intent the true good of the one loved, not personal gratification. Accordingly it is most clearly expressed when fidelity to the one loved demands some personal sacrifice of natural human affection or desire. It may demand the renunciation of happiness in this world, the satisfactions of natural friendships and attractions. Our blessed mother stated this quite explicitly to Saint Bernadette, when she explained the mission given her by the Lord. "You will not be happy in this world", she announced to one whom she loved with a special affection. It is not too much to say that such sacrifice is so much an element of the kind of love that Jesus exemplified and taught that it is in some measure present in all the relationships of a faithful followers of Christ.
As is usually the case, the lesson that the Lord Jesus imparts to his immediate audience, applies no less to us today. His words are not directed only to those who are too inclined to be narrowly critical and legal-minded; they are meant for all of us in our dealings with those we are most attracted to, those who are most congenial to us by virtue of their appeal to our affection, our taste, our interests and ambitions. However much others may mean to us we are to show our affection, not merely by enjoying our association with them, but above all by fidelity to their true interests and by concern for their spiritual welfare, whether or not they understand and appreciate our motives. We must love in Spirit and in truth, inspired by the desire that God be glorified in all things and that those we love attain to union with him. May the Lord Jesus who comes to us in this Eucharist to enable us to participate more fully in his love grant that we put his teaching and example into practice in all our dealings with others. Then shall we be worthy to be called children of God for we shall resemble him in his merciful fidelity to those who put their hope in him.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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