Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 31, 2021
St. Anselm Church – Sudbury, MA
Readings: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 95; 1 Corinthians 7:32-25; Mark 1:21-28
Today we are going to hear about prophecy. Did you know that at your baptism you were anointed with the call to be a prophet? The priest or deacon said, “I anoint you priest, prophet and king”. How do we live up to this baptismal call to be prophets in our own time? It means honing our ability to listen for and hear the voice of God, and then to proclaim it to others. Today we will consider what can get in the way of us doing that, and how God promises to help us.
We ask God’s mercy to help us overcome the distractions & anxieties of the world that can render us numb or deaf to the voice of God.
Lord Jesus, you gather all the nations into the peace of God’s kingdom, Lord Have Mercy…
Lord Jesus, you call us to hear your voice and proclaim a message of love to all people. Christ, have mercy….
Lord Jesus, you accompany us in overcoming all obstacles, ungodly voices, and distractions to be single-mindedly committed to your Kingdom. Lord Have Mercy…
Glory to God in the highest…
The prophet’s vocation is to hear the voice of God and proclaim it to all the people. S/he has to be sure that it’s God whom s/he hears, or else run the risk of amplifying a bad spirit, an untrue voice – and thus be a false prophet liable to judgment for magnifying evil and not good.
- Hearing God’s voice can seem hard. We face that even in trying to make God-centered decisions for ourselves. It takes a special sensitivity of one’s heart, a single-minded and undistracted disposition.
- Yet it IS possible for us ALL to hear God’s voice. But as we see from the first reading, people don’t always want to do the work, to open their hearts fully. Thus they relied on Moses to be the one to speak with God for them, and when he was coming to the end of his life the people asked for God to raise up another leader who would mediate God’s word to them, for to them dealing with God directly was too daunting a proposition.
- So this way of leading God’s people — through prophetic leaders — was something of a compromise that recognized the special human gifts and dispositions necessary for hearing God’s voice that make prophetic leaders a practical solution to keeping God’s people united, faithful and safe.
It was not only the ancient Israelites following Moses who have benefitted from prophetic leaders who have helped call the people back to a more faithful commitment to God’s Kingdom of unity, justice and love.
- The likes of Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Gandhi, Desmond Tutu, and St Oscar Romero have been prophets to us and our immediate forbears. If you are unfamiliar with some of these modern prophets, I urge you to learn about them.
- They were sensitive to God’s authentic voice, in circumstances where many people were distracted and enthralled by the false and malevolent voice of the Evil one which upheld segregation, racism, colonial exploitation and brutal dictatorship.
- Hearing the true voice of God they amplified it and called the people to repentance & transformation.
- Every one of them suffered for it too.
All of us know people who are less known but no less like these famous prophets of our time. For example:
- The teacher who speaks truth to fighting children on the playground, and teaches them the imperative to share and not to act on their anger.
- The victim of a terrible cruelty who shows by her example How to forgive as Jesus forgives.
- WHO are the prophets that come to mind for you? Who has been a prophet TO you?
Could you be prophetic as well? Could you be sensitive to God’s voice and amplify it to the people around you?
- You know, by our baptism we are anointed with the prophetic vocation. We are given that mandate.
- And it is not out of reach, for the Holy Spirit dwells in us and seeks to bring out the truth — the Truth that is the loving voice of God in every situation, the Truth that will “set us free” to quote Jesus (John 8:32).
- Yet why a lot of us never go there is because, we are, as Saint Paul puts it, very “distracted” by other voices — the anxieties of the world, the worry about pleasing people, over concern with self-protection. Those anxieties are voices that can speak loudly to us:
How many of you have disturbed sleep due to various anxieties you worry about? Money. Relationships. Health. Worry about your children, your parents. Worry about the direction of world?
- These aren’t illegitimate concerns but, St Paul is trying to tell us they are often distractions away from the voice of God.
- They’re temptations to FEAR; fear which is often the voice of the Evil One who wants us to act in fundamentally selfish ways — segregation, racism, greed, exploitation, uncharity… all these are often reflexes that come from us listening to and acting on the voice of FEAR.
- We do it in small ways and in big ways. We do it individually and collectively. Social ills as well as personal sins come from us listening to the wrong voices, the false voices that are NOT God’s voice.
Take the story from today’s gospel of the healing of a man in the synagogue.
- He was afflicted by a demon. He was possessed.
- That demon spoke words of war against Jesus whom it recognized as the Son of God.
- There you see in stark terms, the false prophesy, the loud and distracting voice, the fear–inducing voice.
- The man was possessed by that voice, a voice that was real but what it spoke to him was fundamentally not true.
Are we not also possessed at times, enthralled by the voices of untruth that show us a path that (in ways even hidden from us in the moment) lead to our destruction? The voices that produce tremendous anxiety. That make us feel and even convince ourselves that we are alone. That we have no hope. That life ends here. That everyone is against us. That our neighbor is a threat and not a potential friend. The voice of addiction — to substance abuse, to habitual unkindness, to unceasing cynicism. The voice of self-pity. Yes, you and I know in ourselves and see in our society these untrue voices, these malevolent spirits. Now consider the man whom Jesus saved from the demon that possessed him.
- alone that man could not shake that destructive voice of the demon; but Jesus could.
- He presented himself to Jesus — he came there to hear Jesus’ voice. He appealed to the Truth to rid him of the tormenting voice that plied him with lies and stole away his freedom and dignity. Jesus was powerful over that voice. Lies melt away in the face of truth. Light casts out all darkness.
We — ourselves and our society — must deal with our distracting voices by looking and listening always for God’s voice.
- It can take a bit of work, because those other voices are loud sometimes!
- But like the man possessed in the scriptures, we only need to turn for a minute… away from those exhausting voices of untruth and present ourselves to the Lord.
- That can be directly: by our prayer, going to church.
- It can be mediated by the prophets of our lives who speak a liberating truth from God; or mediated by the messages, people, gifts, beauty and grace that are God’s apparent care for us that in gratitude we notice, savor and allow to unburden us and give us rest.
- If we are ever unsure whose voice we are listening to — the TRUE voice of God, or the deceptive voice of the enemy — we should remember this:
- God does not operate through fear and anxiety, but instead is marked by freedom and gentleness and love.
- Even when situations are dark and troublesome, God’s voice speaks to us with a word of hope! As Pope Francis says in his recent book, Let us Dream, God always gives us “a way to escape destruction”.
- Just like the healing of this man, God’s voice always moves to cure a wound, restore dignity, include those on the margins, forgive sinners, uphold justice.
- The voice of God is the voice you can trust. It is not the voice whose message you fear.
Friends, we can hear the voice of God. And when we hear God speak it’s our prophetic call to amplify it, proclaim it, to others. Because God’s voice always speaks Good News.
- St. Francis of Assisi is known to have said: Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary use words.
- St. Ignatius of Loyola is famous for saying: Love manifests more in deeds than in words.
- So our prophesy, you and me living out our baptismal call, means not only speaking eloquently and persuasively in the public sphere to change hearts to the ways of justice. Though that may be the way for some of us. But for all of us, our prophesy must show in our deeds.
- Jesus said: “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice” (Luke 8:321) Do we put into practice what we hear?
This past week a friend — a very spiritual person — mused that she feels there are lots of souls which must struggle in purgatory for a while because the one big sin they refuse to let go of is unforgiveness. I think she must be right!
- For nothing was more important to Jesus than forgiveness.
- For forgiveness makes peace among people.
- Forgiveness is why Jesus came — to take our sins upon himself — and make us all One at the heavenly banquet.
- BUT for us to accept God’s forgiveness we have to do the same for others.
- “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (The Lord’s Prayer)
- “if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (Matthew 6:14)
- Many people don’t like that at all. They want to be forgiven but themselves refuse to forgive.
- Unforgiveness is what may need to be purged from our heart.
In the week ahead, let’s consider our prophetic call that was planted in our hearts in baptism:
- The mandate to LISTEN for God’s voice! Maybe note the contrasting voices we hear and name those which come from God and those which do not, and resolve to spend more time listening to God.
- Then there’s the task of PROCLAIMING that loving, saving, healing message to others…not only in words, but in deeds too — such as forgiving those who have hurt or harmed us.
If we all do that, my sisters and brothers, it would be Good News indeed!