God’s Word on Sunday: Difficult times call for attentive listening

  • April 7, 2019

Passion Sunday, April 14 (Year C) Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22; Philippians 2:6-11; Luke 22:14-23:56

What is the difference between an ordinary person and one who is a prophet, teacher or saint?

On the surface, very little — saints, prophets and teachers are usually ordinary men and women, complete with all the usual quirks and weaknesses. The quality of one who stands out in these roles is complete confidence and trust in God.

Even more important than that, however, is that person’s willingness to listen to God. This is far more than listening with the ears. It means with the heart and mind, too. The Suffering Servant of Isaiah is a fine example — he does not rebel or turn backward, but resolutely ploughs through the obstacles before him.

The words of the Lord are the first things that greet him when he wakes up and they become his guiding light for each day. This gives him the ability to focus with laser-like intensity on the will of God regardless of any opposition or resistance.

Insults and even physical abuse do not deter him or deflect him from his course. The awareness of God’s enduring presence and the gift of divine strength and guidance are far stronger than any negative force or obstacle. This can also be shared with others — the Suffering Servant offered words of hope and encouragement to others in their struggles, as did Jesus throughout His ministry.

This is the same inner force that enabled Jesus to “set His face towards Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51) and to continue His mission in full knowledge of where and how it would end. This anointing for ministry depends on listening to God. It is not the same as ideology or even strong personal convictions, nor does fanaticism or intolerance have a place.

One does not don the mantle of a prophet or teacher on one’s own, nor does a saint impose his or her ways on others. It is always a call, but in order to heed the call, one must listen intently with the inner spiritual senses. Difficult and fearful times call for even more attentive listening to God and a commitment to go wherever that voice leads us.

One is far more effective as a prophet, teacher or instrument of God if their ego does not get in the way. Paul presented Jesus as the model of Christian living — the model of humility and service to others. Jesus did not cling to anything, even His own identity, because of His desire to do the will of God and to redeem humanity.

The text informs us that He “emptied Himself,” assuming not only human nature but the condition of a slave. It was because of this obedience and self-giving that He was exalted to the heavens. We are empowered and enlightened to the degree that we are willing to empty ourselves of selfseeking and ego.

The passion narrative is emotionally and visually powerful. It is easy to become overly focused on the violent and negative details of the narrative while losing sight of the bigger picture. The cosmic drama that is played out in the passion narrative teaches us about many things: human beings with all their weaknesses, commitment and love, and the compassionate nature of God.

Humans resist change and any sort of challenge to their fixed ways of living and thinking, and we today are no different. People resist fiercely, sometimes even with violence. In the face of that wave of negativity, there is self-giving love, lived out perfectly in Jesus.

This type of love is willing to bear anything — humiliation, pain and death — if it will save and help others. Joined to an unwavering commitment to serve God, love is unstoppable and invincible.

Finally, the mercy and compassion of God shines through the narrative. God desires to redeem all humanity, freeing us from ourselves and the sinful world we have created. The passion is not something that happened long ago and our tendency to think so is at the root of many of the world’s problems.

Christ is crucified wherever there is injustice, oppression, violence, hatred and human degradation. It is not an event on the liturgical calendar — it represents a turning point in world history.

It can not and must not be a case of business as usual. The narrative of Christ’s passion must become our own narrative and a description of our own journey.

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