Listen – John Foley, SJ

Mark 1:21-28, Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The readings this Sunday evoke for me David Haas’ beautiful setting of the psalm for this Sunday. It is  entitled, “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts” (Haas). As a composer, I understand technical devices that make his setting work so well, but I don’t really spend time on details like that. I am taken away by the luxury of the music. Thanks, David.

Then, in the readings, I am asked to hear the word of God with my heart, rather than getting distracted by anything else, even the music!

Let me demonstrate.

The First Reading quotes Moses’ words to the people, words spoken to him by God himself:

I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin, and will put my words into his mouth.

Moses has been an intermediary between God and the people, and he now promises another mediator to replace him. This could have been terrifying to them. To illustrate, look at their reaction had been to the ten commandments. brought to them by Moses.

We are told that the Lord descended upon Mount Sinai in great fire and thunder and a blare of brackish trumpets! The people were filled with fear and trembling. They stood far off and yelled, “Don’t make us listen to that voice again, or see that great fire again, because we might die from it.”

Quite understandable. They could not hear the word of God because fear controlled their hearts. Who can blame them? Do you or I ever find God too large and threatening for our small selves? Do we ever ignore God’s voice as it speaks commandments that go against what we want?

Against what? Well, maybe we take the name of the Lord our God in vain. Or miss Mass on Sunday. Or dishonor our parents or desire to commit adultery. Maybe we steal or lie, or lust after wives and husbands not our own. Television and innumerable movies advertise the irresistible joys of such sins. By now we are inured to what our culture today lures us to!

But God’s voice lures us also.

In the synagogue Jesus drives out a devil that was itself violently afraid, no joke about it. “The unclean spirit convulsed [the man,] and with a loud cry came out of him.” Jesus then “rebuked” it.

Jesus teaches “as one having authority.” He uses commands only when he sees our violation of God’s relation to his people. Like his abba, he uses “authority” to warn us back from the destruction that, true to its name, will destroy our lives. This means that rebukes from God are for our good!

Could that make us afraid of him? Yes. But God and Jesus become hardhearted only for our good, not because they are destroyers. Today’s Gospel tells of their power over what is evil in our world.

That is why our Psalm for Sunday shows us singing joyfully to the Lord. Because that Lord has been fighting for a place in our world, in our hearts and in our souls.

Therefore, if today your hear God’s voice and listen to it, harden not your heart.

*From the St Louis University Sunday website

**image from the Internet

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