Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Hosea 1:2;3:1) transports me to the quiet town of Mayberry, where soul friends are about to suffer serious division, all because Deputy Barney Fife is a little too diligent in his policing the streets. He gives the town mechanic, Gomer, a traffic ticket, and Gomer retaliates with his famous citizen’s arrest! when Barney makes an illegal u-turn. Their ensuing argument draws a big crowd, which brings Andy out just in time to hear Barney first call Gomer a boob, followed by nutsy, which Gomer takes as an insult in the face of the public, saying there should be a law against that. Andy convinces Barney that the only way to calm the public brouhaha is for him to write himself a ticket, which humiliates Barney to the point that he eventually resigns his post. When Gomer learns this, he feels remorse, and calls in a false alarm to try and bring Barney back into the force. It works, but when Barney learns that it was a false alarm, he throws the book at Gomer again, hitting him with a 215, a 923, and a 785. And then Barney drives away, making another illegal u-turn, giving us one more opportunity to hear Gomer yelling citizen’s arrest! The final scene has Barney making apology to Andy, restoring their friendship. When he asks Andy what he’s going to do with the resignation letter, Andy simply takes it over to the filing cabinet, where he proceeds to remove a folder and starts reading all the other resignation letters Bernard P. Fife has tendered in the past, arising from one or another of the many humiliations he suffered trying to enforce the law.
It’s hard for me not to think of Jim Nabor’s character whenever I read the Hosea story, and see that God commanded him to go and marry a prostitute named, of all things, Gomer. The temptation is to imagine this streetwalker yelling out surprise, surprise, surprise! when the prophet of the Lord came to her corner and proposed matrimony. The public humiliation of it all was a real-life dramatization of the humiliations God was experiencing at the hands of the covenant partners, the Israelites, who were chasing after every skirt so to speak in their continuing practice of idolatry. Their hedging of bets through military alliances and their rejection of God’s way of peace was an insult in the face of the public. Hosea and Gomer’s marriage, their having children, the break-up of their marriage, and in today’s chapter, their re-uniting, is a morality play writ large. And the moral of the story is mercy. As much as the prophetic voices want to enforce the covenant laws and throw the book at the people when those laws are flouted, beneath it all, at the core of their relationship, is God’s relentless mercy and steadfast love.
We certainly have many occasions to play gotcha and throw the book at folks in our world, as people of faith stray far from covenant love and break fidelity with Jesus’ way of grace and welcome. The humiliations are as public as you can get these days, with viral YouTubes giving every boob and nutcase a day in the sun as they show their stupidity trying to play covenant cop and police the streets of the kingdom. When I watch some of these, such as the latest preacher venting his toxic homophobia from the pulpit, I think about Gomer, Hosea’s Gomer, and I pray for mercy on his soul. I know that this preacher, too, hateful as his message is, is beloved by God, and that God desires more than anything to bring him back into the Way of love. I don’t know what it will take, what kind of dramatic life event it will take, to bring folks like this back into covenant relationship, but I do know that in the face of all the vitriolic spewing of hatred, it is the same steadfast love of God, the same relentless mercy, that ultimately has the power to do it, more than any attempts at retaliation or shaming.
How about you? Where does this Prophetic Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc.