Pastoral Message – March 20, 2022
“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” That’s great advice, but how do we know when we are hearing God’s voice. It’s probably not coming to us from a burning bush or from a cloud. It might come through our families, friends, neighbors, priests, or teachers. However, sometimes it comes to us unexpectedly from surprising sources. We’re happy to call any voice, “God’s voice” when it agrees with our own plan for our lives. The problem arises when God’s voice is trying to lead us in a completely different direction. That’s when our hearts get hard and the grumbling begins.
The Israelites are master grumblers. They started grumbling in Egypt and haven’t stopped. Today, they’re grumbling about no water. Before this, they grumbled about no food. Earlier, they have one of the great sarcastic grumbling lines in the whole Bible when they ask Moses, “Were there no burial places in Egypt that you brought us to die in the wilderness?” Remember, this is the man who parted the sea so that they could walk through it. Yet they grumbled against him.
They were grumbling because they thought that they had a better plan than God. In their minds, there were only two possibilities: dying reasonably comfortably in Egypt or dying somewhat painfully in the desert. They weren’t open to God’s voice which unexpectedly came to them through Moses. They rejected God’s voice even though they had very limited vision compared to God who could see infinite possibilities. However, we cannot realize the possibilities to which God calls us unless we first cooperate with His voice.
In the Gospel, we see the perfect example of a person who unexpectedly hears God’s voice and gives it a chance. This Samaritan woman (who is ashamed of her life) didn’t come to the well to socialize or to get advice. The voice in her head told her to go to the well when no one else would be there, get her water, and get back to the safety of her home. Then she meets a Jewish man who ruins her plan.
She hears His voice, but how could such a woman recognize it as God’s voice? At first, she is reluctant, perhaps even grumbling a bit. She sarcastically says, “Sir, you have no bucket and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?” However, as Jesus speaks, she becomes hopeful. Her heart is softened and she is willing to abandon the voice in her head, break all the rules, and enter into a relationship with a Jewish man who she has never before met.
His words touch her heart. She stops her grumbling. She stops being uncomfortable. She hears and believes. She hears the voice of the “the Messiah!” Then she gets excited about what she is hearing even though it turns her hot, dusty, confused world upside down. She is completely taken in by his words and her world suddenly becomes refreshed with the living water of God’s voice. She is so moved by the encounter that this social outcast inspires her townsfolk with words of her own. Because of her, they hear his voice and open their hearts to Him.
Opening our hearts takes a great deal of faith. Faith is built on trust. We must trust that God has a plan and that the plan is the absolute best thing for us. We truly must surrender to the voice that spells out God’s plan because our plan could never be as perfect as His plan. If we truly trust in God, we have no reason to grumble when His plan differs from what we think or hope should happen.
So what does this mean for us? Each day, we face the pressures of family, finances and faith. We complain and grumble when our lives are different from our expectations. While some of us may be searching for God’s voice, others are hoping that nothing will prevent us from following our own voices. We like our plan. It makes sense to us. It’s comfortable. On the other hand, God’s voice can come to us unexpectedly. It can be disruptive and make us uncomfortable. It can seem crazy.
When I went through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, I learned about “Holy Indifference” which means a total openness to the will of God in one’s life. It requires that we fully surrender our plans, dreams, expectations, and aspirations so that we can gratefully accept in faith and love the future to which God calls us. In my case, I certainly never expected that God would call me here. When I first heard His voice, I grumbled that it was utterly ridiculous. I guess you could say that I hardened my heart. When I told the priest who was leading the exercises that I was hearing a call to priesthood, he told me to pursue it. I said, “But Father, I’m 53 years old” and he said, “God knows how old you are. Apparently, he wants you anyway.”
The point is that God’s voice is always in our midst. It comes to us from both expected and surprising sources. Sometimes it confirms what we are thinking; sometimes it challenges us to think radically differently. We must listen for it, discern it carefully, be open to it (even if it’s uncomfortable), and then act on it. One thing is certain, whenever we hear God’s voice and whoever it comes from, we must not harden our hearts.