Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tuesday of the Second Week in Lent

3 Kings 17:8-16 / Matthew 23:1-12

What do we imagine the voice of God to sound like? Where do we expect to hear God directing us to do his will? While we might easily agree that we ought not always, or in our own lives necessarily ever, to hear that voice come out of a burning bush or a whirlwind, we are likely to imagine that it will come with some obvious, telltale signs of its origin. At the least, we ought to have, we suppose, some unassailable inner conviction that this word we hear is from God, and so we ought to hear it.

God, however, seems to have a different idea. When the prophet Elijah is sent to the widow of Zarephath, God says quite clearly to the Tishbite, Arise, and go ... for I have commanded a widow woman there to feed thee. However, on arrival, the widow knows nothing about Elijah, much less anything about God's command regarding him. It is Elijah who must say to her, Bring me also, I beseech thee, a morsel of bread in thy hand. In fact, he must repeat his request, and even over her quite understandable objection that she has just enough food left for one last meal with her son, after which they will surely die of hunger. It is, then, by the word of the prophet and his assurance that the Lord the God of Israel will miraculously replenish her food that this widow from the land of Sidon yields to the prophet's request. How is it that the Lord said he had commanded her?

Or, consider Jesus' admonition about the teaching of the scribes and the Pharisees. He admits their morally compromised position, so much so that he insists that his disciples not follow their example, for they say and do not. He accuses the scribes and Pharisees of imposing impossible burdens without lifting a helping hand, seeking rather praise from others than making any effort to assist those who follow their teaching to succeed in living out the Law. We might well think that such persons had rendered themselves unworthy of our attention, and we might rightly pay them no heed. Yet, this is not what Jesus says: All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do. How is it that such as these can be said to have sitten on the chair of Moses, to whom God spoke as though face to face?

The truth is that God speaks to us in a variety of ways, and his commands are at least as often accomplished through ordinary as through extraordinary means. To be sure, it was the prevenient grace of God that prepared the heart of the widow to hear his voice in the words of Elijah. Likewise, even if it did them no good spiritually, the Law taught scrupulously by the scribes and the Pharisees was the holy Law given through Moses on Sinai, and choosing to live by it meant choosing life. Even so, for the widow herself, for the disciples of Christ, as well as for us, one must be ready to hear the commands of God where we ought to expect them, however awkward and difficult the circumstances or unlikely or deficient the spokesman. We know that God has entrusted his Church with the grace to present his teachings authentically. To turn away from this is not to heed a higher conscience, not to seek God in a better way, but to fail to seek him while he may be found.

This is why Jesus warns us against the titles Rabbi and Father and Master. It is not that these may not be used in any way except of God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Rather, it is that, if used of anyone else, such a use us secondary, a borrowed title, that bears whatever authority it has only in service to him who bears such words by right. Jesus means us not to allow recourse to any other supposedly unassailable source of authentic teaching, whether because such a one is well educated, is dear to us, or is endowed with personal charisma and authenticity. We are not even to presume that our own best conclusions are without reproach, without need of correction. Rather, we must turn only to God, and to those ways that God, in his deeper wisdom, has decided to communicate his will to us.

Be appeased, O Lord, by our supplications, and heal the weaknesses of our souls: that having received the forgiveness of our sins, we may ever rejoice in Thy blessing.

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