Commentary on the Gospel of
I have found myself telling our students and other groups to whom I have been asked to speak recently the story of two friends and a cricket. It goes something like this...two friends who have not seen each other in some time reunite in the home of the one friend who lives in a large, sprawling urban area. The visiting friend lives in a more rural area and is an avid practitioner of Ignatian spirituality. As the two friends are walking down a particularly congested sidewalk in the middle of the thriving, pulsing city, the rural friend stops the city friend in her tracks and says, “Wait...do you hear that?” The city friend looks around quizzically and says, “Hear what? Take your pick! There’s any number of sounds I can hear.” “No, no,” says the more contemplative friend, “Do you hear that cricket?” Now the city friend is totally puzzled. “A cricket?! In this mess of noise? Are you serious?!” The rural friend says, “Come, follow me.” They carefully dash across four lanes of traffic dodging buses and bicyclists and taxis all rushing by. They then find themselves in front of a very posh, upscale hotel outside of which are two large, potted bushes. The rural friend crouches down, parts the bottom branches of the bush, and sure enough there is a cricket in the soil singing away. The city friend is stunned. “How in the WORLD did you hear that amidst all of this,” she asks, gesturing to the crush of humanity swirling around them. The Ignatian-trained friend stands up and says, “Watch this.” She takes a few coins out of her pocket and drops them on the concrete sidewalk. Instantly everyone within earshot spins around looking at the ground, checking their pockets to see if they had dropped their money. The practitioner of Ignatian spirituality says with a wry smile, “We choose to listen to that which we value.”
Today’s readings are all about listening to God’s word - God’s voice - and acting upon it. We are invited to consider what value we place on the voice of God amidst all the other voices that clamor for our attention in life. We listen to what we value, and Jesus is calling upon us to listen to God’s voice above all else.
In the Book of Proverbs, Solomon writes, “Whoever makes a fortune by a lying tongue is chasing a bubble over deadly snares.” (v.6) What a potent image. From childhood, many of us know the fragile, fleeting nature of a bubble. As they were cast into the air, we would run screaming after them only to soon realize they had burst upon the tips of our fingers or faded silently into the atmosphere. Solomon suggests that to set our eyes on worldly objects, especially those that bend our moral compass, will not only lead us astray, but will cause our feet to get caught up in snares that leave us trapped in death-dealing places. Alas, stay attentive to that which captures the gaze and the effect it has on our feet.
I was recently on a pre-sunrise hike to a mountaintop with a large group. It was pitch black and I didn’t know the route. In fact, the only person who knew the route was the one leading us. I put my trust entirely in that person at the front of the pack and in my headlamp that helped illuminate the right next step. This makes me think of what the Psalmist sings today, “Guide me, Lord, in the way of your commands.” Jesus goes on in the Gospel story to emphasize the importance of hearing and acting on God’s word in order to be led in a faith-filled direction - to be trusting followers who listen well and take the next step up the mountaintop where the sun will rise. We listen for the crickets.
At times we can find ourselves wondering if we are indeed listening to God’s voice or that of some imposter. It is then that we can pray the words of Thomas Merton from his work, Thoughts in Solitude:
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”