“For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).
The verse we have quoted above is from the first reading of today, and it expresses the thought, the synthesis of the intuition which Hosea the prophet has about God. The whole meaning of Christ’s love is contained in those words.
Religion and Sacrifice
Since the times of Adam and Eve, the chosen people lived the law of sacrifice: the firstborn of the flocks were offered as a burnt offering or foodstuffs were offered as an oblation, as a sign of gratitude to God. Making sacrifices is a practice present in many religions, with the aim of obtaining divine favor in return; it represents that kind of childish love that binds a creature to its creator. In the Christian religion, Christ’s sacrifice marked the end of sacrifices with bloodshed, and the de facto situation was reversed: in Jesus’ sacrifice it is not man who gives something to God, but God gives himself to man.
A New Meaning of Sacrifice
In the New Testament, therefore, the meaning of sacrifice changes completely: the Lord desires the heart, that is, the essence of the person, his intelligence, his will, his personal adherence. Not simply making a sacrifice from the heart, but sacrificing your heart, just like the tax collector in today’s Gospel did when he beat his breast and prayed, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). The Lord wants “the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).
It means completely immersing one’s person in the Father’s will; the sacrifice of our life is letting the Lord command our existence, leaving him in control, abandoning ourselves to Him, giving up our own “I” or the “Self”. The holocaust of the self, that we must strive for. It means saying “Lord, your will be done”, and this is often a phrase with a bitter taste, very difficult to pronounce with the heart because we know the implication: His will can be different from ours. And the Lord’s Prayer “the Our Father” begins exactly like this: “Your will be done”. God works when the soul, in its spiritual and material needs, turns to Him and abandons itself to His holy will.
Furthermore, Hosea fears that worship or religion can be used by some people to hide the inconsistencies and injustices in the society. The first true worship or sacrifice is in real life, in ensuring justice towards the poor and the marginalized. For this, Hosea preaches that “knowing God” means having firstly “love” in life, well before going to worship. The prophet, therefore, hopes for a religious practice inspired by the love of God, a sacrifice of the heart, and then we will experience God who will come to us like the autumn rain, like the spring rain that fertilizes the earth (Hosea 6:3)