“What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah?” And we might as well add our own names: What can I do with you, David? “Your piety is like a morning cloud, like the dew that early passes away.”
Ouch! That stings.
The prophet Hosea means to sting us with his words. If not to rouse us from sleep, then to sharpen our awareness: What is my piety like? Is it situational? Do I manifest my faith at work, at play, at home, in public, in private? Does it translate into active love for other people? Do I burn incense at any altar other than the Lord’s? Hosea wants his words to sting sharply enough to open me – where needed – to the healing balm of God, who washes me from my guilt and cleanses me from my sin.
To receive God’s mercy and love well, we need the humility of the tax collector in today’s gospel. Humility lets us see the whole truth of our situation: Yes, we are sinners but we are also beloved children of God. God’s mercy and love not only correct us but also strengthen us to love God and others in return. The Pharisee, in contrast, is convinced of his own righteousness, yet he remains closed to God and despises everyone else.
We cannot compare ourselves to others, for we lack the objectivity and comprehension of God. Only God sees the full truth of our situations. However, we can turn to God in humility in an effort for constant conversion. Our duty is to ponder God’s revelation and listen for his voice, which comes to us perfectly in Jesus. Then, when God asks, “What can I do with you?” the answer will be “Whatever you will, O Lord. Help me to know and understand your will.”
David Werning is the director of social policy engagement at Catholic Charities USA.