God Speaks, But Do We Listen?

God Speaks, But Do We Listen?

God’s Word is a two-edged sword that both comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable. In the first reading for this 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, we find Ezekiel being sent by God to Jewish people who had compromised their faith to the extent of going over to pagan gods. God chose Ezekiel to confront them, a task that filled Ezekiel with downright fear. He was frail, weak, and a very vulnerable man. Nevertheless he is drawn by God’s Spirit to speak out and admit his need for God. The Word of God must be spoken whether or not people will listen. God makes sure that it reaches us.

The Israelites to whom Ezekiel was sent were not well disposed. They were rebellious. You know what a rebellious child is like. Rebellious adults are more so. Their minds are made up. They lash out at anything that challenges their mindsets. A rebellious mind is defiant when it is convinced it is right no matter what anyone says – even God. The rebellious mind is filled with a complete sense of its own self-importance. It considers others to not have anything of importance to say and therefore to be dismissed and not taken seriously.

All of God’s prophets experienced rejection. Rejection goes with the job. St. Paul faced it. We hear him speaking of it in the second reading. Notice that he speaks of his littleness, just as Ezekiel had done when God’s Spirit seized upon him and sent him to confront people with the Word of God. Prophets, however, are not little in the eyes of God; they are little only in the eyes of the worldly.

Toward the end of his ministry St. Paul ordained young Timothy to take charge of some of the Christian communities Paul had founded. In one of his letters to Timothy (2 Tim 4:1-5), St. Paul said:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.

For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths. But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry.

Jesus experienced the ultimate rejection and endured the ultimate lashing out of rebellious humans. In the Gospel (Mk 6:1-6) of today we find Jesus back in his own hometown. There his hometown folks take offense at him. Note that they take offense at him, not at what he had accomplished in his ministry up to that time. Jesus had worked some astonishing miracles. Yet when he comes home his people pay no attention to what he had done. Instead their rebellious minds focused on him as a person, rejecting him and what he had to say.

This raises questions for us to ponder.

Do we listen only to what we want to hear? Do we accept only those things that suit our own agenda?

In recent years there has been a tremendous amount of criticism directed at our Church. It is evident that many people think that because some priests have been found to be pedophiles the entire Catholic Church is to be considered corrupt and therefore its teachings are not to be accepted. Bishops who have not responded as they should haven’t helped.

Some of the criticisms of the Catholic Church have been legitimate and warranted. Because of those criticisms corrective measures have been put in place. But we should ask ourselves this question:

Is the voice of God no longer heard in the Church? Has God ceased to use the Church as His prophetic messenger?

In another area, when it comes to the Bible, do we quote only those passages that suit our own agenda? It is easy to pick a few words in the Bible, lift them out from the context in which they are given to us, and then use them to buttress our own particular positions. This is not only distortion, it is rejection.

The same is true with Church doctrines. They, too, can be lifted out of context and used improperly. Worse still, all of Church teachings can be treated as if they had equal weight, thus distorting their meaning and purpose. For instance, does the Church’s teaching about the sinfulness of an impure thought have the same weight and value as the Church’s teaching that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? No, of course not.

Our own sense of self-sufficiency often blinds us to the truth of our need and of our weakness before God. All too often people who have fallen into the trap of feeling self-sufficient have fallen into the practice of a pagan religion of the willfulness, of formalism, and of a do-it-yourself sanctity. They have found it all very wanting.

The prophet obliges us to leave our comfort zones, to risk getting ruffled and humiliated, and to recognize our own need for God. The prophetic cry is heard even today, and challenges us to trust more in God than in ourselves; to adapt ourselves to the will of God despite our weakness and the seeming impossibility of what it is God asks of us. God’s grace is enough for us. And it is precisely there that we find our greatness. God takes little things and makes them infinitely valuable.

Letting others know of God’s love and of God’s will is the task of a prophet. In this sense we are all prophets – this is something we do, or ought to do, in our field of work, amongst our friends and neighbors, and among whomever we find ourselves. God has a word for all of us; He has something He wants to say to all of us. All of us can be His prophets.

Are we open? Are we willing to listen? Or will our prideful sense of self-sufficiency condemn us to live apart from God’s love? God has things He wants to say to us. Half of prayer is discerning and listening. Perhaps we should take time to be available to God. There are a lot of important things that concern us but being available to God certainly ought to be of the highest importance on our lists of things to do.

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Written by
Fr Charles Irvin