By Clifford Yeary
Associate Director, Little Rock Scripture Study
Most of us have experienced some form of rejection. Even the most worthy high school student can suffer rejection after applying to prestigious universities with limited quotas for new students. Home hunters may have a mortgage application rejected. Job seekers may suffer any number of rejections before landing a position they are happy with. A breakup of a marriage or romantic relationship is often experienced as rejection.
These are all examples of rejection on a personal, individual level. The prophet Hosea, however, announced the onset of one of the most painful rejections of all time, the rejection by God of his own people, Israel — a rejection that came after Israel had rejected God by their worship of idols and by their treatment of the poor among their own people and among the foreigners living in their midst.
Hosea was tasked with announcing God’s rejection by engaging in a painful prophetic demonstration. Hosea was told to marry a prostitute who would be unfaithful to him, and when she bore him a child he was to give his daughter an unenviable name:
“The Lord said to him: Give her the name ‘Not-Pitied,’ for I will no longer feel pity for the house of Israel: rather, I will utterly abhor them.”
Later, when Hosea’s wife bore him a son, another woeful name was to be given to him: “Give him the name ‘Not-My-People,’ for you are not my people, and I am not ‘I am’ for you’” (Hosea 1:6, 9).
No prophetic proclamation could have possibly carried worse news. From the time of Moses, Israel had understood itself to be a people precisely because they belonged to God. They were God’s own people. “Ever present in your midst, I will be your God, and you will be my people” (Leviticus 26:12).
This rejection was only to be temporary, however. It was a rejection meant to communicate the seriousness of what it means to be separated from God’s life-giving mercy. Later, Hosea would deliver a message of hope: “I will betroth you to me forever: I will betroth you to me with justice and with judgment, with loyalty and with compassion.” The rejection would turn into absolute acceptance: “I will have pity on Not-Pitied. I will say to Not-My-People, ‘You are my people’” (Hosea 1:22, 25). Their temporary experience of rejection would be transformed into an ongoing experience of God’s compassion, of God’s mercy.
In the New Testament, the first letter of Peter sees the fulfillment of Hosea’s more hopeful prophecy extending far beyond Israel. Israel had become God’s people through the events surrounding their Exodus from Egypt. Peter was not addressing Israelites when he employed Hosea’s words: “Once you were ‘no people’ but now you are God’s people” (1 Peter 2:10a).
Peter was addressing Gentiles from many races and nationalities, a multi-ethnic assemblage that had never before thought of themselves as a united people. However, because of their common faith in what the God of Israel had done for them in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, they were now a “people.” “Once,” Peter tells them, “you ‘had not received mercy’ but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:10b).
This is also Paul’s message to the Gentiles, as found in his letter to Titus. “We,” he says, were people “who were once living in malice and envy, hateful ourselves and hating one another.” Hardly the formula for the peaceful uniting of a people.
But faith in Christ was to change all that. “When the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior” (Titus 3:3-6).
Mercy not only saves you and me, it unites us, making us a people. Western culture has come to focus on the person, the individual as all important. As Christians it is not uncommon for us to think of the Good News of salvation as a gift that offers individuals complete acceptance in Christ.
God’s mercy toward us is even greater than that. God’s mercy brings us to new life in a community where we discover ourselves as a people embraced by God, sharing with each other all God’s promises. We have become the people of God.
What does being a “people” mean to you?
In what settings or relationships do you discover your strongest sense of belonging?
A) Whether in ways large or small, how have you experienced rejection? B) How have you experienced acceptance in your life?
What can local parishes do to create a greater sense of belonging among the people they are called to serve?
This article was originally published in Arkansas Catholic Aug. 20, 2016. Copyright Diocese of Little Rock. All rights reserved. This article may be copied or redistributed with acknowledgement and permission of the publisher.