Two ways of living (4 August 2013, Ordinary Time 18C)

Readings
Hosea 11.1–11
Luke 12.13–21

We have two pictures of what it means to be human in our readings from Hosea and Luke today. Luke gives us the ‘self-made man’, who builds up a profitable business and is proud of the fruit of his labours. He’s the kind of man we tend to admire. We might even wish we were more like him.

On the other hand, the prophet Hosea gives us snapshots of a growing child. It’s like looking through a family album—a parent teaches a child to walk, the child rebels, the parent is angry because of the wounded love in her heart. The parent’s love for the child remains undiminished. The child is not ‘self-made’ at all; the child is primarily formed by the parent.

Let’s look at these two passages a little more. Hosea first. Of course, the ‘child’ is the people of Israel; the ‘parent’ is God. God says:

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
The more I called them,
the more they went from me;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals,
and offering incense to idols.

God called Israel out of slavery in  Egypt; Israel is God’s son. According to Matthew, God later calls his Son Jesus ‘out of Egypt’ as Jesus fulfils Israel’s story and he becomes the true embodiment of Israel.

Jesus is an obedient Son, but Israel was disobedient. Israel worshipped the gods of the land—the Baals—rather than the God who brought them out of Egypt; Jesus trusts in his Father, our Father.

If you’re a parent, you may know about disobedient children. But whatever happens, you try to be a good parent. So it is with God, who says,

It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with bands of love.
I was to them like those
who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them.

If a child is naughty, that doesn’t change anything. A parent still loves them, teaching them to walk, holding them in their arms, feeding them.

If a child grows and is still rebellious, a parent may be angry. It doesn’t mean they don’t love their child any more, it means they are deeply hurt. They must watch as their child makes bad choices.

But God our parent cannot stay angry forever. God says:

How can I hand you over, O Israel?…
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
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.

God’s first words to us are words of mercy and grace. And the last word of God to us is mercy and grace. By faith we can hear God speak that word to us:

You are forgiven.
You are set free from the past.
You are a beloved child of God.

To me, Hosea’s most poignant words are these:

It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.

We talked about the Lord’s Prayer last week, which begins “Our Father…” The picture of God that Hosea gives is more motherly. In Hosea’s day, it was a mother’s job to teach the children to walk. So God here is a mother, doing motherly things, taking her child in her arms when they topple over during those first uncertain steps. (I’m not saying anything about how we should teach children to walk today—I celebrate it when I see dads being fully involved with their children!)

But in Hosea, this motherly God picks her child up when he scuffs his knee and tenderly cares for him.

 But they did not know that I healed them.

The people forgot God, and needed the prophets to remind them again and again. It wasn’t strategic thinking that would save Israel. They had to trust in the Lord who saved them.

Let’s turn to our reading from Luke’s Gospel. We call the man in Jesus’ parable ‘the Rich Fool’. It’s clear that he hadn’t heard God’s word of grace and mercy in his heart. He didn’t trust the Lord, he didn’t even believe he needed any saving.

He thought he was alone. This didn’t bother him. He was fine as a self-made man. Except he wasn’t a self-made man. No one is. He was successful because of what he was given. Good land. Good weather. Practical intelligence. He didn’t manufacture these things, they came from God from whom everything good comes.

But the Rich Fool is a practical atheist. He lives as though there is no God. And God calls him ‘Fool’. God knows he’s no ‘self-made man’. God knows that the Rich Fool owes everything to God, up to and including every breath he takes and every single beat of his heart. But he himself had no idea of what he owed to God.

There’s one thing that these passages from Hosea and Luke have in common: both contain a picture of human rebellion. But they come from two different perspectives.

The Rich Fool only sees things from his own point of view. He says

I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.

Everything is his alone. God doesn’t matter to him; in fact, God just doesn’t exist as far as he is concerned.

So the Rich Fool lives with a mindset that says I’ve got to protect myself. I’ve got to hoard things away, in case the future goes bad. Deep down, the Rich Fool has a very strong sense of not having enough. In reality, the Rich Fool is terribly, terribly alone.

When it comes to Hosea, we hear how things are from God’s point of view. This motherly God loves her child, Israel. She will do anything to help her son, but—as sometimes happens—he goes wrong. Israel forgets God and worships false gods. Israel forgets that God is their saviour. The nation of Israel become practical atheists, living as if there were no God. Yet God cannot let go. God loves Israel.

What about you and me? How do we see ourselves? Do we believe we are in charge of our own destiny? If so, we make ourselves like the Rich Fool, living an illusory life, pretending that we have got everything for ourselves.

Or can we broaden our vision and see ourselves as God sees us? Can we see ourselves as God’s children whom God loves even when we are rebellious and disobedient? Can we see that God calls us to return? Can we see ourselves as people of plenty, people who are loved by God?

These are very big questions.

Our whole lives depend on the way we answer these questions. How are we going to live? Building bigger barns, excluding the needy from ‘our stuff’? Or are we going to depend on the Lord our God, and allow God to guide us through life?

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