When I was about 7 years old, my mom took me to a department store one day to shop for clothes. Like most boys, I always dreaded these shopping trips, but hey mom wins so I go! After we finished shopping, she said that she wanted to look around for a few things so I trudged along with her. When we were shopping near the escalator, I asked her if I could go up the escalator and come right back down again. She said sure because she could see me from where she was. Psyched, I walked over to the escalator and rode it up and back down again a couple of times which is always fun for a 7 year old. But after a couple of times, I thought what would be more fun would be to run up the down escalator instead! Now that is real fun because it’s a race, you have to run up father than the stairs are moving down. So I am chugging along pumping my 7 year old arms and legs and I am almost to the top – I am about to win! – when this voice of authority says, “Jimmy, cut that out!” I looked up and saw Mr. Powers, one of my parents’ best friends and the general manager of the store, standing at the top of the escalator glaring at me. Red faced, I turn around and go back down the escalator and stay with my mom for the rest of the shopping trip. That voice of authority cured me of my mischief!
The readings today clearly have a message about authority, being cured, listening and readying ourselves to receive His word.
So let’s dig in. In the first reading from Deuteronomy, Moses says, “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you…to him shall you listen.” Right there, the Lord is telling us that when He sends Jesus Christ into time to be in our midst, we are to listen to him. Not just some of the time, not just when it is convenient. He flatly says we are to listen to him. Period. God, speaking through Moses, goes on to say, “I…will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him.” There is that authoritative voice for us, pretty clear isn’t it? We are to listen to His word in however it comes to us, and we as followers of Jesus Christ are to listen deeply. So no surprise there right? We all know this, but in the Psalm there is a message about the all-important HOW we receive His word.
The Psalm today is one of my favorites. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” When I hear that, I always hear it as if it were being sung which may not be surprising as Psalms were written to be sung. Hardened hearts were not just a problem in biblical times, they are a problem today also. In Deuteronomy we heard that we are to listen to Him because he is communicating all that the Lord commands, but picture a hardened heart and we don’t get a picture of one that is ready to receive the Word or, in fact, may be outright rejecting it. Hardened hearts are ones more concerned with anxieties of the day and not of God as Saint Paul wrote. A hardened heart may exist in us without us being all that conscious of it or what has made it hardened. For me a goal in my own spiritual journey has involved having a softer heart, one that is more ready to receive and act upon His word. I think that is part of what God means when He say listen to him. It is in the how we are ready to listen.
And that brings us to the Gospel. What a great story! If you close your eyes, you can put yourself in that setting seeing what the people in the synagogue see in amazement. Jesus taught them as one with authority, and they were amazed at the “new” teaching. No longer were they being taught about what not to do, i.e., the many strict commandments from the scribes, but instead he taught about how we should live. The Lord commanded him what to teach and teach he did! Their ears were opened, their hearts were ready… except for the one with the unclean spirit. That man with the unclean spirit could not hear and receive the word until Jesus cured him and made him whole again. The man had an “unclean spirit” blocking his ability to receive the Word much as a hardened heart does the same.
So the Gospel is really a capstone to the readings.
- We were told to expect a Messiah and we were to listen to him because He will communicate God’s commands.
- The Psalm called us not to have hardened hearts when we hear His voice.
- And the Gospel shows us the people all listening to the Messiah’s teaching with authority and a man being cured so that he has his impediment is removed to listening and responding to Jesus.
Listening, hearing, soft hearts. Across the readings today the theme of readying ourselves to respond to the command, to His word is up to us. He is not doing it for us, it needs to be a conscious decision on our part leaving us, I think, with two questions to consider:
- Is he asking us to clean out our “unclean spirits”, that which blocks our ability to hear and hardens our heart? In essence, what down escalators in life are we running up that we really shouldn’t be??
- And second, what can we do to improve our chances of having a heart that is ready to receive Him?