Take words with you and return to the Lord; say to him,
"Take away all guilt; accept that which is good,
and we will offer the fruit of our lips.
Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses;
we will say no more, 'Our God,' to the work of our hands.
In you the orphan finds mercy."
I will heal their disloyalty; I will love them freely,
for my anger has turned from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel;
he shall blossom like the lily,
he shall strike root like the forests of Lebanon.
His shoots shall spread out;
his beauty shall be like the olive tree,
and his fragrance like that of Lebanon.
They shall again live beneath my shadow,
they shall flourish as a garden;
they shall blossom like the vine,
their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon.
O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols?
It is I who answer and look after you.
I am like an evergreen cypress;
your faithfulness comes from me.
Those who are wise understand these things;
those who are discerning know them.
For the ways of the Lord are right,
and the upright walk in them,
but transgressors stumble in them.
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?" Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." Then the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that 'he is one, and besides him there is no other;' and 'to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,' and 'to love one's neighbour as oneself,' .. this is much more important that all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." After that no one dared to ask him any question.
The thrust of both our readings is conversion of the heart, and goes beyond turning away from sin. In Hosea, Israel is to "return to the Lord, your God" as to a loving partner; in the Gospel, the love of God and of our neighbour are closely linked. This desire for God is an active response, not a theoretical notion. Rather than be distracted by theological argument, the people should reach out effectively with compassion for the orphan.
Both Hosea and Jesus speak in the language of the ancient Scriptures which they had learned from joining in the liturgy. Our liturgy on earth reflects the beauty and peace of heavenly life. According to Hosea the dew of heaven rests upon Israel; just as we still invoke God's Spirit to bless our Eucharist like the dewfall . Jesus says "Amen" to this anticipation of heaven: "You are not far from the kingdom of God." Hosea and the Gospel help us to put our Lenten practices into proper relationship with ourselves with our neighbour and Church, and all with God.
In the gospels the scribes or lawyers are generally portrayed as in conflict with Jesus . In today's gospel, however, Jesus and a Jewish scribe are very much of the same mind. Jesus says to this particular scribe, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." Both are agreed on what are the two great commandments of the Law. What these two commandments have in common is the call to love; where they differ is in the object of that love. The first commandment calls us to love God and the second to love our neighbour. The priority is given to God. The two commandments also differ in the intensity of the love they command. It is only God who is to be loved with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength. It is only God who is deserving of the love of all our being. To love God in this way is to be caught up in God's love for humanity and that is where the second commandment comes in. Love of neighbour is where the pure and total love of God invariably leads us.