Within harmony or dissonance, the divine voice can speak
In this Sunday’s responsorial psalm, the psalmist cries out, “O that today you would hear God’s voice!” Listening for the divine voice and seeking out true prophets are the topics of this Sunday’s readings. Sometimes we find a harmony of human and divine voices, while at other times, a cacophony can hinder our search. The readings this Sunday help us be attentive to God’s authentic voice in the noise that surrounds us.
Oh, that today you would hear his voice. (Ps 95:7)
Who acts as a mediator of God’s voice for you today?
Can you identify the source of the loudest voice in your life right now?
What are the true prophets saying to your community right now?
This Sunday’s first reading, from the book of Deuteronomy, is a vision of harmony. The passage establishes the role of a mediator between the Israelite community and God. As Moses reminds God’s people, such a mediator “is exactly what you requested of the Lord, your God,” a request the Lord was happy to grant, “What they have said is good” (Dt 18:16-17). This was in fact a normal role in the religions of the ancient world. Every culture identified certain inspired individuals who were capable of mediating between the divine and earthly realms of existence. Israel’s God worked carefully to make sure human mediators would speak an authentic message.
Sometimes we find a harmony of human and divine voices, while at other times, a cacophony can hinder our search.
Nevertheless, it was not always clear whether prophets spoke for God or for themselves. This Sunday’s reading from Deuteronomy warns about this: “If a prophet presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded, or speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die” (Dt 18:20). Speaking for God was a serious business, and the need to be certain that a prophet was a “prophet like Moses” concerned pious Israelites in every generation. The book of Deuteronomy foretells the coming of such a prophet (Dt 18:15), but not many were capable of succeeding Moses as the definitive mediator of God’s instruction. The prophet Elijah had the strongest claim to this title, but sacred authors usually imagined this prophet to be a hoped-for messiah, like the Son of Man in Daniel or the “anointed one” from the psalms. The Gospels contain several passages in which people questioned John the Baptist and Jesus to determine whether they were the “prophet like Moses.” Jesus’ disciples were those who came to believe that he was indeed the definitive mediator of God’s voice.
This Sunday’s Gospel highlights Jesus in this role. The passage contains competing voices, the voice of Jesus and the voice of an “unclean spirit.” With his voice of authority, Jesus preached to the astonishment of everyone in the synagogue, but is the unclean spirit that gets even more “narration time,” filling the passage with more direct speech than most other characters in Mark’s Gospel. In doing this, the evangelist subtly reminds followers of Christ that ugly voices can often threaten to overcome Christ’s words. Nevertheless, Jesus’ voice pierces the cacophony, and his few words prove more powerful: “Be quiet, get out of the man” (Mk 1:25).
Within our Christian tradition, the prophet like Moses is Jesus Christ. Throughout the Scriptures, God’s people sought the definitive divine voice. In every age, Christians have found that voice in Jesus’s Gospel message. Our task as disciples is to sift through competing voices and listen for the one voice that rises above all others. Our capacity to hear only grows as we come to know Christ’s Gospel and recognize his risen presence still among us. Then we can fulfill the hope of the psalmist: “Oh, that today you would hear his voice!”