Father David's Reflection for Thursday of Week Eighteen (Ordinary Time)
The Responsorial (Psalm 95) reminds us: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
Numbers 20: 1-13 teaches us to accept the fact that even God’s greatest ministers are not perfect. This encourages us to keep trying to minister to others in spite of our faults.
The people were dying of thirst in the desert and revolting against Moses for leading them out of Egypt. Then God told Moses to strike a rock with his staff in the presence of all the people, and he would bring water out of the rock. But Moses doubted. Instead of declaring that God was going to do, he hedged his bet by asking the people. “Are we going to bring water out of this rock?” And in his anxiety he hit the rock twice.
For this God blamed him: “You were not faithful to me in showing forth my sanctity before the Israelites.” Moses’ hesitancy was an obstacle that kept God from revealing his goodness and power as impressively as he intended and the people needed. But in spite of this lapse, Moses is still one of the greatest figures in Judeo-Christian history. His story simply warns us all, no matter how faithful we have been all our lives, that we have to keep listening daily and responding to God’s inspirations with discerning faith: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
Matthew 16: 13-23 is a similar story. Peter, in the name of all the disciples, makes his great profession of faith in Christ’s identity, and for this Jesus gives him the “keys of the kingdom of heaven.” This is the origin of Peter’s “primacy” among the apostles and the primacy of the Bishop of Rome among other bishops. Jesus told Peter he was listening to the right voice: “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.”
The first thing Peter does, however, after being made pope is to brush off what Jesus is saying and try to lead the Church astray! When Jesus said he was going to establish the Kingdom by dying on the cross, Peter said, “God forbid!” In response, Jesus spoke to Peter more fiercely than he spoke to any individual in the Gospels: “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.” Peter had changed channels and was listening to the wrong voice: “You are thinking, not as God does, but as human beings do.” Peter failed to keep in mind the warning, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” He was reacting just as a Jew of his times, accepting the cultural expectations and prejudices of his milieu, “following the crowd” instead of listening to Jesus and the Spirit. If Peter could fall into this, it is obviously a pitfall all ministers must be on guard against.
In every Eucharistic Prayer we pray especially for the Pope and local bishops by name, and for all the bishops and clergy throughout the world. This is not because they are more important than others, but because of their special role and responsibility in preserving the unity of the Church. Our heartfelt prayer for them is, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
Initiative: Be a priest. Listen to God’s voice with a discerning heart.