Thursday of the Third Week in Lent

Jer 7:23-28; Ps 95:1,2,6-9; Lk 11:14-23:  If you harden your heart you can’t listen; if you are deaf you can’t hear.  Hearing is a prerequisite for listening.  Anyone who prays the Liturgy of the Hours is very familiar with our responsorial psalm in today’s mass.  Psalm 95 is often used as the invitatory psalm for the Office of Readings or Morning Prayer.  Beginning the day with prayer demands a certain level of openness to the Word of the LORD.  For those who harden their hearts, there is no prayer.  There is no growth.  There is no obedience.  We are summoned to hear and listen so that we can dialogue with the very Word Made Flesh and so alive among us in the Body of Christ, the Church.  When we listen and respond we sing a joyful song to the LORD. We acclaim the only Rock who saves us. Indeed, we come into his presence giving thanks and almost dancing for joy.  We bow down before him in worship at the altar of his sacrifice, and we kneel before the tabernacle of the Lord Jesus who is “with us always”.  This Good Shepherd has beckoned us because he knows each of us by name, and we are in the flock for which he lays down his life. We want to hear his voice and learn to trust him in all our suffering.  Trust him rather than test him.  Our ancestors tested him at Meribah and we remember that painful event.  They were grumbling against Moses and the LORD. The very core of their complaint went something like this.  If the LORD is for us, if indeed he has brought us out of Egypt, why does he abandon us now to desert thirst?  Surely this LORD of whom you speak Moses is not a god at all.  Perhaps he is a demon.  This kind of doubt and confusion came out of the deepest and darkest places in the hearts of the former slaves.  Their pain was felt by the LORD who “though he cannot suffer he can suffer with”.  As Saint Bernard explains the LORD feels with us, the LORD has compassion—he suffers with.  This LORD listens closely to our hearts and he warns the prophet Jeremiah that the people will not accept correction, but preach to them anyway. The Lord Jesus confronts the accusation that the Father confronted.  When he heals a mute person some accuse him of healing by the power of the evil one. They were afraid of the finger of God touching their lives.

One of the most painful lines in today’s first reading from Jeremiah is this one, “the word itself is banished from their speech”.  If the Word of the LORD is not on their tongues, if they are mute, then the Word is not in their hearts.  If the Word of the LORD is banished, cast out, deliberately excluded, then their hearts are empty and their speech is noise.  As the LORD explains to Jeremiah, from the exodus until the present the people have refused to listen to the LORD and have not walked in his ways, “they have not obeyed me nor paid heed; they have stiffened their necks and done worse than their fathers”.  This stiffened neck is not unlike the obdurate and obstinate heart of Pharaoh. Though they left Egypt, that place of slavery; they took idols with them on their journey.  They even took some of Pharaoh’s heart, and they acted as he did. They turned their backs to the LORD; they refused to turn their faces to the LORD.  This hard-hearted people soon became deaf to the Word of Life and there was only muted speech to proclaim his Word that saves.  Neither prophets of old, like Jeremiah, nor prophets in our own day, like you and me, can use hard hearts as an excuse for not preaching the life-giving Word of God.  This word continues to seep into the hearts of the mutes, and soon the Lord Jesus will set them free.

The Lord Jesus takes on a mute demon in today’s gospel.  He is not afraid because he is the fullness of the Word of the LORD.  Indeed, he is the Word-Made-Flesh.  The Lord Jesus takes on and defeats all such enemies. He comes to make our hearts secure. He comes to save his people from their starvation diet.  He comes to put a new word of praise into the mouths of his people.  The Lord Jesus is not mute before the grumbling of the crowd. He takes on their false judgment.  He takes on their demand for another sign.  First, he appeals to their logical minds.  If Satan gives me the power to cast him out then he is fighting himself. Second, he appeals to their sense of loyalty.  If Satan uses me to cast him out then he also uses your rabbis to cast him out. Finally, the Lord Jesus confronts the very issue that disturbs that crowd the most.  “But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.”  Resistance is futile.  Where do you stand?  This is the question that each member of that crowd does not want to answer, and the Lord Jesus warns them their time for hesitation has ended.  “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” The Kingdom of God is at hand.  Now, each of us must decide whether we stand with or scatter about.