Thursday, January 15, 2009

If Today You Hear His Voice, Harden Not Your Hearts.

Most of today’s first reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews (3:7-14) is taken from Psalm 95, which is also the Responsorial Psalm for today. The writer of Hebrews makes it clear that the message: “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts”, is from the Holy Spirit. He concludes with an inspired message of his own: “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from God. Instead, encourage one another daily, while it is still “Today”. We become partners with Christ only if we hold firmly till the end, the confidence we held at the beginning.”

“Encourage one another” is an appeal to you, and to me, to participate fully in the Body of Christ, which is the Church. The beginning for each of us was our baptism. That was the first “today” of which the scripture speaks. If we would grow in grace, then every day of our life must be another “today”, in which we grow in grace, knowledge and strength before God and before others. Each day, we must reflect the identity of Christ, our priest, prophet and king.

“But”, you protest, “I don’t reflect Jesus in my own life very well.” “Of course you don’t”, I reply, “and neither do I. But I hope and pray that, with the help of God’s grace, I will reflect Jesus in my life better today than I did yesterday.” “And better tomorrow than you do today, Father?” you ask. “No, child.” “Why not, Father?” “Because by the time tomorrow gets here…” “I know, ‘By the time tomorrow gets here, it will be today.” “Yes, that’s the real meaning of today’s Psalm, and today’s first reading.

Today, January 15, 2009, is a particularly special day. It is the 80th anniversary of the birth of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a day for us to reflect not only on the first reading, but also on today's gospel.

A man with leprosy came to Jesus and begged him on his knees, "If you are willing, you can make me clean." Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured."

The disease of leprosy is no longer the scourge it was in Jesus’ time, thanks to modern medicine. Yet, there are still people in our society who are isolated, outcast, ignored. In that sense, our world is still full of “lepers”. During much of the history of our nation, people of color were segregated, much in the same way that lepers were separated from society in Jesus’ day. Today, on the birthday of Martin Luther King, we would do well to examine our consciences to see if there is any trace of either conscious or subconscious racism.

Five days from now, we will witness the inauguration of the forty-fourth president of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama. He will be the first president with African-American ancestry. But his ancestry also includes slave-owners from the southern states of Maryland and Virginia. And, genealogists tell us, he also includes among his ancestors the ancestors of several Presidents of the United States, including Harry S Truman, and George H.W. and George W. Bush, also one vice-president, Richard Cheney, and one recent candidate for that office, the Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin. (You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your ancestors, and when the scriptures say, “All men are brothers”, it is not only spiritually true (and inclusive), but genealogically accurate as well.

Today, then, is a good day to re-examine our attitudes. We sometimes like to think that we have no prejudices, but if we are honest with ourselves, we will discover them lurking within us. Not only the history of slavery, but that of our treatment of Native Americans, and of Japanese-Americans during World War II, are vivid examples of the virus of bigotry and prejudice.

“If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” Remember: live today as if it were the first day, the only day, the last day of your life. Someday, it will be.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is good to gain this perspective on the "today" part of this message. Not only does it make inarguably good sense, since today is what I have and nothing more. And today is what forms me to be in the Body of Christ. It also speaks to the Buddist attitude of being present in the moment, so "today" becomes a communion with other faith traditions, and with the cosmos at large. Mostly, Father's perspective helps me convey something specific to another person, giving me words that speak the voice of the Lord, in hopes of touching a heart of my soon to be son in law.