21. Mercy is not opposed to justice but rather expresses God’s way of reaching out to the sinner, offering him a new chance to look at himself, convert, and believe. The experience of the prophet Hosea can help us see the way in which mercy surpasses justice. The era in which the prophet lived was one of the most dramatic in the history of the Jewish people. The kingdom was tottering on the edge of destruction; the people had not remained faithful to the covenant; they had wandered from God and lost the faith of their (forebears).
And remember the example of Hosea: marrying a prostitute and living a life as a metaphor of the troubled relationship between God and Israel. 8th century Israel, by any judgment, was to blame for the destruction of the Northern Kingdom. And the “future” Exile of the South–just another breach of covenant.
According to human logic, it seems reasonable for God to think of rejecting an unfaithful people; they had not observed their pact with God and therefore deserved just punishment: in other words, exile. The prophet’s words attest to this: “They shall not return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me” (Hos 11:5). And yet, after this invocation of justice, the prophet radically changes his speech and reveals the true face of God: “How can I give you up, O Ephraim! How can I hand you over, O Israel! How can I make you like Admah! How can I treat you like Zeboiim! 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 not (human), the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come to destroy” (11:8-9).
Remember that Hosea experienced betrayal in his life. Were these heartfelt words something that resonated with his personal depths? Or did he struggle with them in his personal anger? There is much condemnation and doom in the rest of the book, remember.
Another saint who knew something of mercy gets the final word today:
Saint Augustine, almost as if he were commenting on these words of the prophet, says: “It is easier for God to hold back anger than mercy.”[Homilies on the Psalms, 76, 11] And so it is. God’s anger lasts but a moment, his mercy forever.
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