“Let us not again hear the voice of the LORD, our God, nor see the great fire anymore, lest we die.” Now pretend for a moment that you hadn’t heard the first reading and didn’t know how this story plays out. “Let us not again hear the voice of the LORD, our God, nor see the great fire anymore, lest we die.” What do you suppose God’s reaction is going to be to a request like that, which the the Chosen People told Him at Mount Horeb? I think most of us would go with some variation of “not good”, right? When has Israel ever pushed the Lord away and found good results? But I’m sure to our surprise the Lord replied to Moses, “This was well said.” I wonder if that caught Moses off guard. “This was well said. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin, and will put my words into his mouth.”
So what’s going on here? Turn your attention away from the first part, “let us not again hear the voice of the Lord”, and instead focus on the last part, “lest we die”. The Chosen People knew a very great truth in their encounter with the Lord. When you hear the Lord’s voice and stand in His Presence, you must conform yourself to His will. To be in the presence of the living God you must be holy or else face your own destruction. The Chosen People lament that if they continue to hear the Lord’s voice they will surely die because they are only just beginning to learn how to be holy and how to be God’s People. The Lord agrees; they are not ready yet to truly hear His voice. So instead he promises to speak to them through the prophets. They will still learn how to be the Chosen People, but that voice of authority will come through a human intermediary.
Which brings us to the Gospel. The people were astonished at the new teaching of Jesus, not because of its content, but because he spoke with authority. The gospel writer didn’t even bother to say what his teaching was, just the reaction of the people. The people are used to the voice of the scribes and even the voice of the prophets in their scriptures, but Jesus is speaking with a new voice that they have not heard before in their lifetimes. Jesus is speaking with the voice of the Lord. That’s why the unclean spirits are so terrified of him, why they can identify him as the Holy One of God and why they ask if he has come to destroy them – they know the voice of the Lord, and they know that as spirits that have rejected the Lord they cannot live in His presence! The people on the other hand, will have to make their choice and decide whether in the voice of Jesus they hear the voice of the Lord… whether they to can recognize him as the Holy One of God. Christ came to offer us newness of life, and they can either hear his voice in obedience and have life, or hear the voice of the Lord and perish, just as their ancestors feared.
I have some terrifying news for you: the voice of the Lord is in our ears as well. And what’s more, we are more prepared, more blessed with the grace of God to hear and respond to the Lord’s voice than even the people of Capernaum were when they literally heard Jesus speaking in their synagogue. We have the entirety of the scriptures laid out before us, and the benefit of two thousand years of the community of faith reflecting and interpreting what the Gospels mean. We have the voice of the Church, the sure foundation of the office of Peter and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that teaches and guides us in the faith. We have thousands of saints who have walked before us and given us an example of how to live. It will take great holiness for us to stand in the presence of that voice and live.
But brothers and sisters, outside of this voice, outside of the Word proclaimed in this liturgy that we hear and absorb and heed, there is no life… there is only shadows and illusions, the deceptions of those unclean spirits that cannot stand in the presence of the Lord. Hear the voice of the Lord and see that great fire of the Spirit entrusted to the Church… and live. Live as the holy people that the Lord has called us to be.
Sign up here to have newly posted homilies sent right to your email.
Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.