Hosea 2:16-18, 21-22
The first reading today is characteristic of how, when Israel looked back on the Good Old Days, they thought of the time spent wandering in the desert. They did not usually think of the greatest political strength reached under Solomon or the first years in the Holy Land under Joshua. They thought about the forty years that the entire nation of Israel wandered in the desert. "Thus says the LORD: I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart. She shall respond there as in the days of her youth, when she came up from the land of Egypt."
But these forty years were a punishment from God. Because of their lack of faith in him, he condemned them to wander for forty years in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land. How is it that a time of punishment came to be considered the good old days? Because it was a time when food, manna, fell from the sky. Water came forth from a rock. And above all, they followed a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. It would not be correct to say that this was God, but it could be called the finger of God pointing them in the right direction.
At other times in their history, they had better food and drink and better homes and beds, but during those years wandering in the desert, they had a close relationship with the presence of God that could never be equaled. Everyone, rich and poor, depended entirely on God for their daily food and drink. Everyone, rich and poor, went wherever God told them to go. God spoke face to face with Moses, telling the people exactly what he wanted from them. Since the days of Adam and Eve until the days of Jesus Christ, this was the nearest that humans and God ever were.
In each person’s life, there are good times and bad, times of success and times of failure, times of plenty and times of need, times of sickness and times of health, but none of those factors matter when we look back on our life. The best of times were when we were closest to God, and sometimes that was in the desert.