Jesus answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”
Luke 8: 21
Today’s first reading from the Book of Ezra speaks of the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple with the support of the Persian King Darius. We are told that the building is completed “according to the command of the God of Israel” (Ezra 6:14). It is striking to the modern and secular ear to hear the possibility of an entire people acting in concert as motivated by the command of their God.It may even be a strange enough experience to challenge the often compartmentalized and ethereal place that our own faith and attending to the Word may occupy in our daily and public lives.
Luke’s presentation and positioning of the story of Jesus’ relatives coming to him as he preaches reinforces one of Luke’s major themes: We must be doers of the Word that we hear. Religion and belief is an increasingly “trending” topic of conversation and debate. What we believe, however, is often much more a source of what divides us than what unites us. As we hear in our recent political discourse in the United States, our religious practice tends to be more how we identify and distinguish our differences than how we universally serve all members of our society and our world.
Last evening there was a story on the news of a young woman and mother, Christine Heidt, who had decided as a response to Pope Francis’ visit to the United States to donate a kidney to a needy person. She said: “There are a million reasons not to do it and the one reason to do it is to help someone else.” She went on to say: “There’s no greater gift to oneself than giving hope to someone else.” For her, the life and presence of Pope Francis is a word that “commands” a response, in her case admittedly striking and dramatic — although to see her is to see she is anything but dramatic, really incredibly ordinary. The Word of God truly lives in the actions of its hearers in response to it. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)
As I watched and listened to this story last evening, I realized that Christine was unalterably changing the life of another person, obviously physically but, at least equally significantly, spiritually. By her act of love and sacrifice she proves what the human spirit is capable of and that, as St. Therese of Lisieux said of herself, that our vocation is love. Not all of us are able to or called to respond to God’s word in such a dramatic way. What we are called to is to for others what we can at the moment it is asked. What would happen in the world if, instead of looking for ways to justify and assert ourselves over others, we were to simply ask them, within of course our limits and other responsibilities, “How can I be with you and for you?” What if each of us today were, in some small way, to be with and for someone in an aspect of his or her struggle, suffering and pain. We would, no doubt, be contributing, in accord with our unique call, to the building of God’s Temple “according to the command of the God of Israel.”
Harsh and bitter are the problems which religion comes to solve: ignorance, evil, malice, power, agony, and despair. These problems cannot be solved through generalities, through philosophical symbols.Our problem is: Do we believe what we confess? Do we mean what we say?
We do not suffer symbolically; we suffer literally, truly, deeply; symbolic remedies are quackery. The will of God is either real or a delusion.
This is our problem: “We have eyes to see but we see not; we have ears to hear but hear not.” There is God, and we do not understand God; there is God’s word and we ignore it. This is the problem for us.Any other issue is relevant insofar as it helps us to meet that challenge.
Abraham Joshua Heschel, No Time for Neutrality