The very first verse of today’s gospel reading tells us exactly why the gospel is Good News. Jesus calls us his “little flock” because he knows how powerless we sometimes feel in a world where violence is so prevalent. But we are also told not to fear, because our heavenly Father is pleased to give us the kingdom. It is precisely because we rely on love and generosity rather than on control and violence that we are eligible for this most precious gift of the “kingdom,” that is, ultimate freedom and happiness.
To rely on the way of love and kindness, which often appears so unpromising, is in fact to lay up an “inexhaustible treasure in heaven.” The danger is that this way of living can often look like so much “pie in the sky.” And that is why the remainder of this gospel reading focuses on the need for vigilance. The moment we are distracted from the wisdom of Jesus, we begin to slip back into the ways of the world, that is, we begin to forget what human life is all about.
To be vigilant means, therefore, to keep Jesus and his teaching constantly before our eyes. We recall that, in the garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus returned to his disciples and found them sleeping, he warned them to “watch and pray” (Mark 14:38). He could just as easily have said, “Watch, that is, pray.” For it is only our prayerful remembrance of God’s presence among us and of the promise of the kingdom that will protect us from the fateful distractions that lead us to live by the world’s standards and to be found unprepared when the Lord comes for us.
We live in a world where the pace of life is far quicker than it was at the time of Jesus. Our planes and automobiles are designed to go faster and faster. Even our medications must work ever more quickly. Sometimes we seem to be in a whirlwind and it is almost impossible to keep our bearings. All of this makes it much more difficult to live in the kind of peaceful world where the voice of God can be heard. Nor is it possible to find such a serene existence without a conscious and deliberate effort on our part.
Being alert to the reality and presence of God in our personal world means learning how to pray. The most important element in prayer is an attitude of being attentive to the Lord. Like Elijah on Mount Horeb, we are surrounded by thunder, lightning and earthquake, but it is the “light silent sound” of God that we need to hear (1 Kings 19:11-12).
God is constantly whispering to us that we are his “little flock”—that we are precious in his eyes and that he wants very much to give us the freedom and joy of his kingdom. But too often we are not listening. We are bombarded by sounds and sights that frighten and confuse us. The only remedy is to attune our ears to the divine sounds of love and harmony and peace. We recall the words of the Book of Revelation: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him and he with me” (3:20). But we need to be quiet if we wish to hear the Lord knocking at the door of our hearts.
We all know how distressing it is to be saying something only to discover that no one is listening. At such times we realize that attentive listening is one of the most precious gifts that we can offer to another person. It is also a precious gift to God when we offer him our attentiveness. And when we do so, God will speak to us as he spoke to Jesus at his baptism: “You are my beloved child; in you I am well pleased.” These words, spoken very softly, can change the world for us.
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.