Serendipitously, today’s readings, in their stress on mercy, faith and love (cf. Mt. 23:23), provide a wonderful introduction to the riches of Ordinary Time. Of all the prophets, Hosea may best express the merciful and loving compassion of God. In a context excoriating false repentance (Hos. 5:15-7:2), the prophet quotes insincere attitudes and counters them with an oracle from God: Your piety is like a morning cloud, like early dew that passes away, while God desires love not sacrifice and knowledge of God rather than holocausts (6:6).
The Gospel appropriately relates the call of Matthew and the complaint of the Pharisees that Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners. Indiscriminate association with the marginal is one of the most solid traditions about the historical Jesus, so much so that before he was ever called Lord or Messiah, his earthly description was glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Mt. 11:16). As in Mark, Matthew defends his actions with a proverb about the sick, not the well, needing a physician, but adds to his Markan source the quote from Hos. 6:6 on the primacy of love and mercy over false devotion (see also Mt. 12:7).
The story of Abraham completes the triad of love and mercy. Throughout Romans 4, Abraham is a model of a faith that brings about a right relation to God, rather than human achievement. This is powerfully stated by Paul: He believed, hoping against hope. Though he and Sarah were past the age for bringing forth new life, he never forgot God’s promise of an heir. He never weakened in faith, nor did he doubt God’s promise. This is a depth of faith that brings forth death from life and enables a person to trust in Jesus, who was handed over and raised up for us.
Today’s brief readings offer challenges for the church today. True religion involves deep faith in the mercy of God that issues forth in love. Hosea challenges false repentance, where the most beautiful words cannot save an ugly heart (Carroll Stuhlmueller, C.P., Collegeville Bible Commentary, p. 504), and depicts a God who seeks mercy and love. Jesus enacts God’s mercy by associating with religious outcasts while challenging people’s conception of who is the insider and who the outsider. The faith of Abraham reminds us that before there was any Judaism or Christianity, God was active in history, and summons us to think of possibilities of reconciliation between the three great Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Ordinary Time presents some extraordinary challenges.