Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A
[Sirach 15:15-20; Psalm 119; 1Corinthians 2:6-10; Matthew 15:17-37]
The text we heard today from the Gospel of Saint Matthew puts me in a mind of a conversation I had a few years ago with some grade twelve students. I was curious to know who were the principal influencers in their lives and those of their peers. They answered by speaking about singers, rock bands, some TV programming, even video games. None of this was familiar to me, so I then asked them, “If you listen to these voices, will they lead you away from Jesus or toward him?” Their response was instantaneous: “Away from Jesus!” To which I then responded, “Well, then, why would you listen to them?”
That conversation has remained with me ever since. I mention it often because it is reflective of a widespread phenomenon impacting not only our youth but also every one of us: the multiplicity of voices that compete for our attention. Through television, radio, Internet sites, social media platforms, conversations at the water cooler or in the staff room, etc., many messages come at us, hoping that we shall listen to them. Often those voices are in competition. One person says this, another says that, and a third party says another thing altogether. To whom should we listen, and how do we decide?
With this as background, let’s look at the Gospel. Notice how Jesus makes clear the contrast that exists between what he says and what others are saying. Throughout his discourse he says repeatedly, “You have heard it said …, but I say to you …” In this way our Lord puts the question to his first listeners and also to each of us today: who are you going to listen to? My voice, or the differing voice of others?
When I choose to listen to someone’s voice and allow it to influence my thoughts and behaviour, I am, in fact, giving that person my trust. So, the question prior to that of who I listen to is: whom do I trust?
Listen again to Sirach, when he says, “If you trust in God, you too shall live, …” God alone is fully worthy of our trust. He speaks His Word in order to draw us to Himself and, in this communion with Him, give us life. That divine Word became flesh in Jesus, meaning that Jesus is the voice of God. If we choose to trust God before all else, and on the basis of that trust choose to listen to His Word and follow, the way we do this is by listening to Jesus. Do we trust the Lord? Do we have confidence in what he tells us? Or are we, in fact, placing our trust elsewhere?
We need continually to come back to this fundamental question of trust, because we are constantly coming up against messages that entice us away from Jesus. The contrast Jesus noted between his voice and that of others 2000 years ago – “you have heard it said, … but I say to you …” – exists today. Think of the many things “we have heard said” about the nature of family, human identity, sexuality, the paths to happiness, the way to peace, the place of faith in the public square, and so on, and we know that the response of Jesus would be a rather emphatic BUT, “but I say to you.” The teachings of our Lord found in the Gospels and handed on in the Church usually contrast with those we here in the multiplicity of media messaging. Whom do I trust? To whom shall I listen?
Now, I have observed, as I am sure you have also, the strange phenomenon today whereby people will try to cancel voices or messages that contradict their own. This is broadly referred to as “the cancel culture.” Rather than give the other a respectful listening and then engaging in courteous conversation and authentic argument, people are barricading their minds against differing thought, often by cancelling lectures or verbally pouncing on the other in some fashion, even before they have had a chance to speak.
When we listen to Saint Paul, we hear that the urge to cancel extends even to God. In the case of Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, his cancellation went by the name of crucifixion. The Apostle observes that none of the rulers had understood the wisdom God spoke in his Son; “for if they had,” he says,” they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” But the resurrection of Jesus shows clearly that he cannot be cancelled. The truth he speaks, the truth he is, is ever victorious. The only acceptable response to his Word, then, is to receive it, surrender to it, and allow it to transform our lives.
So, let’s not hesitate humbly to examine our lives and ask where we are resisting the Word spoken by Jesus because we have been listening to other voices. Have we tried to “cancel” it by choosing to follow our own ways or those proposed by others? The only voice fully worthy of our trust is that of Jesus Christ, who here makes himself present among us in the sacrament of the Eucharist. May our communion with him in this mass deepen our trust in his love, keep us focused on his voice alone, and in this way remain on the path that leads to the fullness of happiness and life.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Christ King, Stettler; Our Lady of Grace, Castor; and Immaculate Heart of Mary, Bashaw
February 11-12, 2023