Today’s reading takes us back to the early eighth-century BCE. You may recall that it was at this time Isaiah began serving as a prophet to the southern kingdom, Judah, during the reign of Uzziah. Our prophet for the day, Hosea, was Isaiah’s contemporary and served as a prophet to the northern kingdom, Israel, during that same era.
In the book of Hosea, we get the intriguing story of a prophet called to live out his call in a surprising and unusual way. Hosea is told to marry a prostitute, Gomer. It is an outlandish request that God makes. After all, how could Hosea expect the people to listen to anything he said if, according to the laws of the covenant, he violated the codes of purity and contaminated himself in such a shocking way. The command given to Hosea reveals that God cares much more about the spirit in which the law is lived out than the letter of the law.
God’s plan for Hosea has a distinct purpose, and for this prophet it just may be that what he does will speak much louder than anything he says. In the early chapters, we learn that Hosea binds himself to Gomer in marriage and remains faithful to her, even rescuing her when she leaves him at one point. While no analogy is perfect, the intent of Hosea’s lived-out message becomes clear when matched with what he is then told to speak: As Hosea’s love is for Gomer, so God’s love is for Israel. No matter what they have done, God will not abandon them.
As well as reminding us of the kind of love God has for Israel–and for us, perhaps Hosea’s example is also a witness of the kind of love we are meant to have for each other. The purest form of love we can offer is the unconditional kind.