You are not far from the Kingdom of God,” Jesus tells a questioner in today’s Gospel, unlike our two Old Testament readings, in which Israel seems very far indeed. Yet Hosea and the psalmist are at pains to stress that it is our distance from God, not God’s distance from us. Hosea likens God to a foolish lover, longing for the affection of those who carelessly abuse and spurn him. The psalmist strikes the same plaintive note: “If my people would but listen to me….”
The Lenten season seems to be about turning down the noise of our secular culture so that we might listen. For only in the silence of prayer and meditation may we hear what God says to us: that our egotistic false selves are a fiction, something we created to cope with being born and growing up in the world with no intimate experience or knowledge of God’s presence in us. And in this silence we may perhaps experience something of our true selves that emanates from God every moment, selves that are distinct from God but not separate from him, and slowly be transformed by his power, relinquishing our self-centered ideas of holiness and goodness.
As Hosea makes clear, everything we need for a joyful spirit is his free gift. All we can do is consent to accept that gift in humility and faith — “for in Thee the fatherless find a father’s love.”