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Fear stands in way of hearing God’s word

  • April 3, 2022

Passion (Palm) Sunday (Year C) April 10(Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22; Philippians 2:6-11; Luke 22:14-23:56)

There is no lack of people or groups who feel that they have a duty and calling to loudly proclaim their beliefs. It often seems like we are being bombarded from all sides by very shrill, intolerant and angry voices. What is to distinguish them from the prophet described in Isaiah? Just one more voice?

The huge and essential difference is that the prophet does not proclaim his own opinions, biases or fears. In the early hours of dawn, he listens sensitively to the voice of God and this voice instructs and forms him. He does not resist; he allows himself to be led. But the prophet does not rush out to broadcast the message in the marketplace nor does he draw attention to himself. He uses this divine knowledge for the best possible purpose. He teaches and sustains the weary — there were many then, just as now — with his words.

Although he did not resist the message, many others did and they vented their fury on the prophet. He was subjected to public humiliation and physical assault, but he did not try to escape and he did not resort to similar behaviour. This is usually a sound indicator that the proclaimer, reformer or prophet has a genuine calling and is not just projecting their own issues. His relationship with God gave him a steely resolve, calm inner assurance and total reliance on God. He knew that he would be vindicated in the end.

The key to the model of prophecy presented in this passage is the emphasis on listening in silence and receptivity. The art of listening — either to God or to other people — is an endangered practice today. In order to truly listen to another or to God, it is necessary to turn off our egos and allow the words a fair and compassionate hearing. Just think what an impact this would make if we really began to practise it. Every relationship — the family, the workplace, the government and international relations — would change dramatically. Unfortunately, this is blocked by fear, selfishness and the desire to control others, all of which are so much part of our humanity.

Paul proposed the model of Jesus as a solution to this common problem and as a paradigm for the Christian life. Jesus Christ emptied Himself completely, giving away, albeit temporarily, all powers and privileges associated with His divinity. He embraced completely our human nature, and if that were not enough, the condition of a slave. He was completely obedient to the will of God even to death on the cross. It was this total gift of self that resulted in His powerful and exalted status.

In a similar way, what might appear as weakness to others can actually be the source of great strength. When we serve others unselfishly or follow the word and guidance of God, we transcend ourselves. We have an inkling of what we will be like when we are raised to life with God.

People understandably concentrate on the sufferings of Jesus during narrations of the Passion. But there are two aspects of the drama. One of them is the continual presence of human weakness and failure. Judas betrayed Jesus. Some of the disciples betrayed the message of Jesus by fighting over who was the greatest. Others betrayed Jesus by failing to stay awake with Him and then fleeing for their lives when the arresting party arrived. Peter betrayed Jesus by denying that he even knew Him. A crowd obeyed their baser instincts and howled for Jesus’s blood, while a weak and vacillating Roman procurator listened to them rather than his own better judgment.

For the second part of the drama, Jesus was unswerving in His commitment, even though He struggled mightily in the garden. He showed constant care and compassion for His disciples, the women of Jerusalem and the repentant thief on the cross. He prayed for God to forgive those who killed Him. We see broken humanity on the one hand and humanity suffused with the Spirit and divinity on the other. We do rather poorly on our own, even with the best intentions.

The purpose of our faith journey is to merge with the example given by Jesus — to become more like He is and less captive to human brokenness and ignorance.