As one could surmise, the whole story presented in Bible is that of man searching for God, and that of God going out to meet man halfway in order to endow him with his grace. This, in other terms, is none other than the history of salvation. The First Reading of this Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time shows this desire in man to meet God in a more intimate way. Within Israel is that yearning to see God face to face, to hear His word as it comes from His lips, and to know Him as He is. This knowledge, in the understanding of the people of Israel, is that which is precisely meant by salvation. But on the other hand, Israel knows that this sanctity of God is too much for them to bear; certain death results from gazing on His face, and that is how one could understand the importance of intermediaries in the faith of Israel: on who would speak the words of God to His people, one from whom Israel would feel the firm hand of the Lord. With this context in mind we could understand the God’s promise of a prophet through whom the Lord himself would address His people: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin, and will put my words into his mouth. He shall tell them all that I command him. Whoever does not listen to the words that he speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it”. The prophet, in the context of the history of Israel, is the one who communicates the word of God with respect to the actual situation; he is the one who makes known His will. But it is also known that between the message of God and His people, no other barrier exists but that of a hardened heart. Examples of how these walls impede the reception of the word of God and their sad consequences abound in the history of salvation, found in the Bible, and present even in our days. This is the reason why our understanding of the fact that it is God who speaks to us through His messengers and that we should Him is reinforced by what we have heard from the Psalm: if today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. This is indicative of that which we have already said a while ago: there is no barrier between God and man other than a hardened heart. A hardened heart is one that has not only refused to do what God wills in one’s life (which is always willed for the good); to have a hardened heart means to refuse to take heed and to accept the word of God. Here we can make two considerations: on one hand, the heart does not accept God’s word because it is hardened; on the other, since it refuses to listen, the more it gets hardened.
The prophecy made to Moses and through Moses in the Old Testament finds its fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. In the Gospel we see Him teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum, and we see people being astonished by his teaching. People are taken aback by the richness that flows from his words, and by the authority with which he teaches. The power of his words are made evident by the fact that even unclean spirits do what they are told, when Jesus commands them to go out. Jesus is the one who teaches with authority. His words have life and power. This isn’t the only time in the gospels that we see people listening to him and drinking in his words. He is the cause for Mary’s preference to sit by his feet and listen to Him while at Bethany, in the house of Lazarus (cfr.Lk 10:38-42); we should remember that one of Peter’s most meaningful declarations was this: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”(Jn 6:68); in other parts of the gospels, we see the same disciples awed at the fact that Jesus speaks with such power that even inanimate nature listens to him, as was the case of the calming of the storm (cfr. Mk4:35-40 and other parallel accounts).
But Jesus does not only speak the words of God: he utters as someone who is not only sent by God, but he speaks as one having the same authority. When we listen to the words of the Master, when we heed his words, we heed the same order of the Father whose voice resounded over the heights of Tabor: This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Mt 17:5). Accepting the words of the Son of God allows us to share in the very life of Jesus. This is the life that all of us share, by virtue of baptism, by the power of that identification with the Son of God, which is a prime effect of this sacrament.
What moral repercussion could this Word have for us? In the first place, this would lead to consider the importance of going back to God again and again: the life of conversion. We have hardened heart that could only be soften by the Spirit, whose action has been likened to the dew fall (as we may hear in the words of the Second Eucharistic Prayer of the revised translation of the Roman Missal), that wets and refreshes the parched earth. Only a heart made of flesh is capable of listening to the Word of God, Jesus Christ.
Another consequence we can get from the admonition of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians (the Second Reading). In a nutshell, in mentioning the excellence of the consecrated life over the married one, he was pointing towards the fact that the human heart was created to love God totally. Love could only grow deeper when it is always open towards the Other; our Christian vocation, which ultimately consists in loving God above all things and persons, cannot flourish and grow if it does not receive the Word. Our love should directed towards God, but this is not possible if we choose to remain deaf to His Word, obstinate with regards to His law, and hardened with respect to his Love. As a consequence, it would be very difficult to love others as God Himself would love them (as Openign Prayer of the Sunday Mass would say: Lord, help us to love you with all our hearts and to love all men as you love them…), which I think is the best way to love people: not even with the strength of our own love, but with the love of God Himself. The grace to love the Lord our God with an undivided heart: this is the grace that all of us have to ask!!!
May our struggles and efforts this week and in our live be directed to this end. AMEN.
FIRST READING: Dt. 18: 15-20
SECOND READING: 1 Cor 7:32-35
GOSPEL: Mk. 1:21-28