Monday, October 7, 2019

We need to allow God to give us heartburn.

Oftentimes, and it happens to the best of us, we don’t allow the depth and impact of the Word of God to affect us the way it has the propensity and the power to.  It could be because we think we are too familiar with the Word of God, and for us who are members of the clergy, it can be something like an ‘occupational hazard’, where, because we are so exposed to it on a daily basis, it becomes rather easy for us to gloss over the Word of God and what it is revealing to us – about its truth, its meaning for the world, and most importantly, its meaning for us personally.  

But I am sure this isn’t only something that happens to clerics.  Many members of the laity struggle with this over-familiarity with scripture, especially when it comes to the Gospel texts.  The three-year cycle of Sundays and the two-year weekday cycles of the Mass readings in the Liturgical cycle of the Roman Catholic Church give us a re-visit to the scriptures on a regular basis, and if one is regular at weekday Masses, and faithfully goes to Sunday Mass each week, one would have gone through about 90% of the four gospels and about 55% of the non-Gospel New Testament readings.  A passive listening of the readings at Mass may end up making one feel as if one has ‘heard it all’, and give in to the temptation to ‘switch off’.

We see a very interesting phrase used by Luke the gospel writer in the post Easter episode that is often given the heading of ‘the road to Emmaus’.  In it, we see Jesus interacting with the two jaded and dejected disciples who were walking away from Jerusalem toward the town of Emmaus after Good Friday.  After having heard Jesus giving his two disciples a history lesson, detailing how God had woven himself into the warp and weft of the lives of the Hebrew people from the time of Moses, we are told that the two disciples felt their hearts ‘burn within them’. 

This, I believe, encapsulates what needs to happen in every person who either reads scripture or listens to it being proclaimed at Mass.  In that encounter on the road to Emmaus, Jesus wasn’t telling those two disciples anything new.  They must have known the Pentateuch and the prophetic writings.  It couldn’t have been new to them.  Yet, there was a difference here.  Jesus, who is the Word himself, opened up scripture to them, and made it land in a new way on their jaded and discouraged ears.  They allowed him to peel away the layers on their hearts and minds that were preventing them from perceiving the truth in the promises of salvation and the wondrous promise of the resurrection that was foretold by the prophets from of old.  Jesus helped them to join the dots.

Notice too, that this ‘stranger’ who walked with them didn’t mince his words.  In fact, he was rather straightforward and called them foolish. Not only that, he pointed out that their biggest problem was that they were slow to believe.  They were slow to trust in the big picture of God’s plan, but at the same time, were very myopic and focused only on their one narrow view.  Wasn’t this Judas’ problem as well?  In Judas’ mind, there was only one modus operandi that God could and should possibly make God’s kingdom come and it was, in all likelihood, one that used violence and a tit-for-tat approach, and with great immediacy.  The disciples couldn’t see past their current pains to allow the healing of God’s promises to enter into their hardened hearts, and in a very unlikely way.

Isn’t that what is so frequently preventing us from entering into the beauty and truth and life of God’s Word to us?  We are so wrapped up in ourselves and our worries, so much so, that we are unable to go beyond our little world to see our lives from a higher point of view, which is God’s point of view.  Our lives are only a dot on God’s immense canvas of his work of creation and salvation, and there is really no way that we can fathom how things work out as God deigns it.  Pride makes us want to, but our finite minds make this simply not possible, and faith allows this to happen. Not only are our hearts hardened, but our ears are also often hard of hearing.  Passivity is a great contributor to this.  We may be present in our pews, but our minds are as closed as a bank on Sunday.

If this is the state of our hearts, it probably means that there is some hardness of our hearts that needs a good deal of softening.  Only when that happens can our hearts end up in a state that Cleopas and his friend found theirs when they had a glimpse of living out their lives Eucharistically.  They described it as experiencing their hearts burning.  

Pray for a good heartburn and let that heart of burning love set the world on fire, starting with you.  Milk of magnesia may help a physical heartburn, but only the milk of God’s love gives us a healthy and burning heart.

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