In this brief interval of Ordinary Time between the Seasons of Christmas and Lent, the Liturgy has given us an ongoing instruction on listening to the word of God. This theme reappears in today’s readings, where we see that the divine word has the power to free us and transform us. This is the word spoken by the prophets in the Old Testament and made fully present in the New Testament with the coming of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. He is speaking to us now, with authority.
In the time of Moses, the Israelites had mixed feelings about hearing the word of God. They wanted the Lord to guide and protect them, but they were afraid of hearing his voice. They preferred an intermediary, a prophet, who could speak the word of God to them. In today’s reading, the Lord acknowledges their desire for a true prophet and promises to provide one. He tells Moses: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin, and will put my words into his mouth.” Ever since the Lord gave this promise, the Jews looked forward to the arrival of a new Moses, a man who would deliver them from slavery and bondage and bring God’s word to them.
The prophecy of Moses was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Jesus himself is the new Lawgiver, the new Mediator between God and man, the new Liberator from every evil. Jesus, the new Moses, is far greater than the Moses of old, for he is the perfect revelation of the Father. He is the One whose word brings not death but life. However, the warning that Moses gave long ago – that anyone who does not listen to the words of the prophet will have to answer for it – still applies; it applies to us and to how we receive Jesus and the Gospel.
St. Paul shares a similar concern in the second reading. He is not specifically addressing the importance of listening, but he explains that in every aspect of our lives, our first concern should be the pursuit of holiness. He encourages us to avoid anything which would hinder our free response to God. Marriage is not an obstacle in itself; in fact, it is a way of holiness. Paul does not place any restriction on those who want to marry, but he knows a certain danger that marriage can introduce: a divided heart. He is not speaking for or against marriage; rather he is urging us all to be entirely devoted to the Lord. When we “harden our hearts” to his voice, we are not entirely devoted to the Lord but interiorly divided.
There is a spiritual condition that is even worse than being divided: being entirely opposed to the will of God, like the unclean spirit who shrieks in opposition to Jesus in today’s Gospel. If we examine the words of the unclean spirit, we can gain insight into the terrible effects of “hardness of heart.” The demon displays a combination of fear and defiance. He is afraid that the Lord has come to destroy the reign of evil – and this is correct. He declares openly that he knows who Jesus is, “the Holy One of God!” But he does not benefit from this knowledge because in his pride he refuses to bend his will before the Lord. Jesus does not listen to the ranting of the unclean spirit. He simply orders him with authority: “Quiet! Come out of him!”
Today’s Psalm sums up the message of the Liturgy. It warns us not to harden our hearts when we hear the Lord’s voice. Instead, we are to joyfully welcome the Lord: “Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD; / let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation. / Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; / let us joyfully sing psalms to him!” This attitude of joyful welcome is the kind of listening that bears fruit!
What is hindering me from making a free response to God? How does “hardness of heart” interiorly separate me from being entirely devoted to God? During the day, how many times do I consciously welcome the Lord with a joyous heart?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 20, no. 2. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.