If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your heart.1 Well, my friends, today you have heard God’s voice. One of the four ways Christ is really present in the Eucharist is in the proclamation of the Scriptures According to the Second Vatican Council, Christ “is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are proclaimed.”2
So, the question is not whether you have heard Christ’s voice. The question is, “Are you listening?” It is possible to hear without listening. None of us needs look any further than our family life to verify this assertion.
Our responsorial for today is Psalm 95. For those of us who pray the Liturgy of the Hours, Psalm 95 is what is called the “Invitatory.” It so-called because, along with its antiphon, it is how the Church’s daily office of prayers begins.
Psalm 95 is about the Israelites during their forty-year sojourn in the desert. It refers to an episode from the Book of Numbers. In this instance, God’s people were complaining that they were led out of Egypt only to die of thirst in the desert. To quell the near rebellion, even when it meant defying God, Moses made water flow from a rock.3
Urging you not to harden your heart is just another way of saying open your ears and listen. Specifically, as the opening words of the Rule of Saint Benedict indicate, it means “Listen… to the precepts of your master, and incline the ear of your heart, and cheerfully receive and faithfully execute the admonitions of your loving Father…”4
In our first reading, taken from Deuteronomy, Moses foretells that at some future and unspecified date God will “raise up for you” a “prophet like me” from among his chosen people.5 And when this prophet arises, what are they to do? Listen to him. Jesus is, of course, the prophet about whom Moses spoke.
Jesus, as even the demon in our Gospel recognized, is the Christ, “the Holy One of God.”6 Because he is the Christ, Jesus is the one who teaches with authority. His authority, as the man from whom the demon was cast out could surely attest, is derived from his unfailing love, care, and concern for those he came to save.
It should be noted that Jesus is authoritative, not authoritarian. Presumably, as God, he could have been born as the emperor of the Roman Empire. He could have established God’s reign using the full, coercive might of the Roman imperium. In reality, he did the exact opposite. Hence, the Lord does not impose, force, or coerce.
In today’s Gospel, it is clear that Jesus is said to have taught with authority even before his encounter with the demon. It may well be the case that it was Jesus’s teaching that provoked the demon to declare himself! The inspired author of Mark does not tell us what Jesus said in the synagogue. Jesus's teaching often provokes. Keep in mind the "provocation" is a compound word: pro, meaning "for," and vocation, meaning "calling."
Keep in mind, we’re still in the first chapter of the Gospel According to Saint Mark. Six verses earlier, which was part of our Gospel reading last week, we perhaps find a clue to the content of Jesus’s preaching: the Kingdom of God. But then, this is the content of virtually all his teaching. As Mark’s Gospel relays when Jesus emerged from his forty days in the desert his message was: “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”7
It has been noted that “the gospel is less about how to get into the Kingdom of Heaven after you die, and more about how to live in the Kingdom of Heaven before you die.” For a Christian, what is life but preparation for life in God’s Kingdom?
Living as a Christian is not merely about living the tension between the already and the not yet. It requires us to live the not yet as if it were the already. We live this way no matter what, regardless of where we live, what kind of government we might live under, no matter the consequences. If you want to provoke demons, try living in this way, after the manner taught by Jesus.
How do you live this way? Let the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy are our guides: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick and those in prison; encourage those who are lost, teach the faith (mainly by living it), counsel the doubtful, be patient with those in error, and bear wrongs patiently.
As our Gospel today tells us, Jesus comes to bring hope and wholeness. He comes to bring salvation. In the second chapter of the Letter of James, we read that faith without works is dead. To make this point emphatically, James points out: “You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble.”8
While the demon may tremble, belief does not alter his way of being. This shows that faith is more than merely believing. Your belief in Jesus Christ should cause you to repent. Repentance happens when you listen to the voice of the Lord and don’t harden your heart. Soften your heart: be consoled where you need consoling, be healed where you need healing, and be challenged where you need challenging. Let yourself be provoked.
Conversion is a life-long process, initiated and brought to completion by God’s grace. God doesn’t impose or coerce. God elicits our cooperation. As Saint John Henry Newman observed: “In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”9
As recipients of Jesus’s healing, which is offered in and through the sacraments, we are called to help others experience this. The best way to do this is by demonstrating what Jesus has done for you through acts of service. Besides, it’s hard to throw stones when you’re busy washing feet. Doing this establishes your credibility as a Christian, forwards the Church's mission, and extends God’s Kingdom by making it present in the here and now.
1 Lectionary for the Mass, Responsorial, Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, sec. 71.↩
2 Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium), sec. 7.↩
3 See Numbers 20:2-13.↩
4 Rule of Saint Benedict, Prologue.↩
5 Deuteronomy 18:15.↩
6 Mark 1:24.↩
7 Mark 1:15.↩
8 James 2:19.↩
9 John Henry Newman, As Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, Part I.↩