Last week we celebrated the Feast of God’s Word and the ending of our week of Prayer for Christian Unity. During the week we also celebrated the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul and the dramatic way that God entered into Paul’s life.
Today, the author of the Book of Deuteronomy tells us that God promises to send the people of Israel a prophet. The prophet will come from among them. As for the people, they are to pay attention to the words of the prophet. God is sending them a prophet because this is what the people are asking for. God tells Moses that the one he raises up had better speak the Words of God – had better be faithful because if not, God will punish the prophet – the prophet will die.
In the Gospel, Mark tells us that Jesus goes into the Synagogue and shares some insights from God’s Word. Mark tells us that the people are amazed and astounded at his teaching. (This is not a good thing – in the Gospel of Mark this means that they are not catching on to what Jesus is saying!)
Mark tells us that an evil spirit asks Jesus a question and, in the process, acknowledges that Jesus is the Holy One of God. The People of Israel have seen what Jesus is doing – they are amazed and astounded. How is it that an evil spirit recognizes Jesus but the faithful people of Israel who worship in the Synagogue fail to see, hear, understand, believe and worship the Son of God? How is it that unclean spirits are witnesses to God’s presence but the faithful people of Israel do not?
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells the early Christians, “I want you to be free from anxieties.” Paul suggests that the way to be free from anxiety is to focus our lives on the Lord. In the text, Paul is not telling people what to do with their lives (stay single, get married); he is telling them how to be, given their status in life. As they go about life their primary concern is to be God!
Are you ever anxious or worried? Most of us, at one time or another are worried or anxious about something. Our anxiety and worry can keep us from seeing God’s presence in the world around us and in our own lives.
This week when I came back to work after two weeks of rest and relaxation and prayer I discovered that:
The Parish Office furnace was not working,
One of our faithful parishioners had died,
There were reports and forms to be filled out,
There were phone calls and appointments to make
There were liturgies to be celebrated,
There were Facebook messages and questions to respond to and countless other things.
This is the state of our lives. We all experience this busyness. How do we handle this busyness? How do we keep our eyes focused on the Lord?
I think the readings today give us a couple of clues. First of all, they invite us to listen to the prophets that God sends to us. God does not leave us to find our way on our own. Prophets help us to see what we are missing – what is right before us. Being a prophet is not about predicting the future – it is about seeing, touching, hearing what is right before us. Prophets remind us of God and they ground us in the now. God is still sending us prophets to help us – are we paying attention to them?
The readings also invite us to be open, to let God’s Word find a home within us. Sometimes we ask questions but we are not really looking for answers. We know what we want to hear and even when we get solid, clear information we dismiss it because it is not what we want to hear. We act as if we know everything already (pride). Parents and children experience this in their relationships – this pattern is repeated in all our relationships and it is repeated in our relationship with God. The People of Israel could not see Jesus the Messiah because he was not what they expected him to be.
The readings invite us to focus/to pay attention. So often we pay attention to and give priority to things that are passing away. St. Paul tells us that whether we are single or married our focus ought to be the Lord. Full stop.
Too often we replace God with our work, with our religious practices, with our relationships, with our ‘personal causes’ and with our leisure activity. God is present everywhere and, in all things, and in all manner of things.
God is with us when we feed our cattle, when we play hockey or baseball, when we pack groceries, when we go fishing, when we prepare a meal and when we gather here for prayer. We are accustomed to doing either/or and we forget that we can do both/and. Sometimes we are so focused on what we are doing that we miss the opportunity to notice and make room for the presence of God. Like the people of Israel in the gospel we are astounded by our experience and we do not see God.
Today we are invited to listen, to be open and to pay attention – to look for God in what we are doing every day. Prayer, whether personal or liturgical is not primarily about us saying words or doing rituals. Prayer is about pausing and making room for God’s voice, for God’s presence, for God’s call; for God. Unfortunately, like the people of Israel we think we know what God wants and we are not so good at listening, at being open and at paying attention. This is true for those who do not come to Church and it is true also for those of us who do.
The words we say, the rituals we do have a purpose; they are to make space for us to hear and to see the Presence of God. When we gather here let us listen, let us be open, let us pay attention so that we see the HOLY ONE OF GOD. Let us take what we see and what we hear in our prayer and let us change the world in which we live. Let us love one another as Christ loves us. It is the Holy One of God who asks this of us!
Fr. Doug Jeffrey, OMI