4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts?
Have you heard God’s voice today yet? Yes, you have heard at the end of our Scripture readings, “the word of the Lord” and you have responded “Thanks be to God” or Praise to you lord Jesus Christ. So have you heard the “word of the lord”, the voice of God? And have you opened or hardened your hearts to it?
The reading from Paul, for example, did you hear that as the ‘word of the lord”, a text having the authority of our Sacred Scriptures. But did it make any sense to you? Do you even remember what you heard? Last week in our prayer group, this reading annoyed everyone there. Those who were single expressed their dismay at the suggestion that because they are not married with a family they have all this time for the things of God and don’t have the responsibility of making a living, taking care of elderly parents, etc. etc. And those married women there were upset at the presumption that there lives are about pleasing their husbands at the expense of having time to devote to prayer and their spiritual lives. After a liturgy I celebrated yesterday afternoon, one of our young teen-age parishioners who is extremely bright and thoughtful said, Fr. Bob, that reading from Paul makes no sense. If a wife were pleasing her husband or vice versa, wouldn’t that be pleasing to God, because isn’t that what God wants, that we show our love for others. I was not only amazed at Rebecca’s comment but at the fact that she was listening!
Am I and Rebecca and the woman in the prayer group hardening our hearts of to God’s voice in the reading from Paul? I don’t think so. Paul’s writing at a different time, for a specific culture, and community. The challenge for us is to listen closely, with discerning ears? What would this text mean for us today? The reality is that each person, married or single, living alone or in a family or in a community has to balance the “things of the world” and the “things of God”. What the scripture reminds us of is that our lives are about relationship, Relationship with God and with others. The human wisdom of Paul enshrined in the Sacred Scriptures is not “verbatim” the voice of God.
And what about the gospel? What about the man with the unclean spirit? Does this “word of God’ this Gospel word make any sense to you. Does the language of “casting out demons” speak to your heart? In the time of Jesus and certainly when the Gospel write mark composed this Gospel, events and behaviors that couldn’t be explained rationally were said to be the manifestation of demons or unclean spirits. Those possessed by evil spirits were “out of control” and “in the control” of demonic powers. For Mark, Jesus is the one, the Holy one of God who can control, cast our, these powers that enslave a person.
We may not use the language of casting out demons in our ordinary lives but certainly we have enough experience of being “out of control” because of addictive or obsessive behavior. We can be so possessed by hatred, by having to be always right, even by having to be perfect, to succeed, to be rich, to be famous, a whole litany of being possessed by something else other than God.
Look at the scene again. Look at the difference between Jesus who is so “self-possessed” and the man who is so out of control or better yet in the control of some other power. We see Jesus “in control”, calm, centered, with an inner strength and authority that “calms the storm” within this man. And we see this man “out of control”, possessed, with an inner turmoil and desperation that only an encounter with a person like Jesus can free.
Jesus in this story calms the inner storm for this man. Jesus is so “self-possessed” and in control of the situation that he no longer will allow anything to “possess” this man. In Mark’s Gospel Jesus is portrayed as the one who “calms the inner and outer storms” of life. Whether it’s the literal “calming of the storm” at sea when the disciples feel they are perishing and Jesus says to the elements. “be still”. Or whether it is the Gerasene demoniac who is possessed by a legion of demons, Jesus says “be still”. Jesus is the one with power over the elements, inside and out. Jesus is the voice of God who speaks a word of freedom from whatever it is that possesses us.
And does Jesus do the same for you? Is Jesus really present and active enough in your life that he calms the storms, anxieties, whatever possesses you. Whatever possessed you to ….? Fill in the blank. I wonder if we let the power of the person of Jesus “astonish us” like it did his first “hearers” if we wouldn’t find ourselves more “Self-possessed” and “Jesus-possessed” than simply “possessed”.If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts? What have you heard? Are your hearts hardened or opened to the presence and action of the Holy One of God?