Thursday in the 16th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Memorial of Ss. Joachim and Anne, Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Facing the Wall
Readings: Exodus 19:1-2, 9-11, 16-20b; Daniel 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56; Matthew 13:10-17
Someone said to me recently that spending time in prayer felt like sitting before a brick wall. Ever have that kind of feeling? At some level you know you need God, you have some desire to encounter God. But when you do try to pray, nothing seems to happen. God seems to remain stubbornly silent, painfully absent. It’s not an uncommon experience. The reasons are various. But what, we might wonder, can we do about it? The experiences of the people in today’s readings offer some suggestions…
Led by Moses, the people of Israel arrive at the foot of Mount Sinai. We are told that they pitched their camp facing the mountain. In other words, quite literally, they find themselves facing a wall, not of brick but of stone. And yet, the cool impassive mountain face soon becomes for them a privileged place of encounter. There is fire and smoke, the blasting of trumpet and the rumbling of thunder, as God descends on the mountain to meet and speak with the people. But before this happens, before the wall of stone becomes a place of meeting, isn’t it striking how the people are told to prepare themselves? Let them wash their clothing and hold themselves in readiness… They are to make space for the Lord and then they are to wait, to wait for the third day, for God’s own appointed time to make an appearance.
The lesson is clear. When we find ourselves facing the wall of God’s silence, perhaps what we need to do is to prepare, to make space, to wait… And this waiting is not just for God to appear. Sometimes (always?) it is also for us to learn to recognize God’s ongoing presence. Consider, for example, the people in the gospel reading. Here is Jesus, the Emmanuel, the God-with-us, walking among them, teaching the ignorant, healing the sick. And yet there are those who refuse to recognize him. They listen and listen again, but not understand, see and see again, but not perceive. The wall that hinders them is the solid surface of their own hardened hearts.
And what does God do? When more direct speech evokes resistance, Jesus responds by speaking in parables. He uses metaphors. He tells stories. He does this because, as we all know from experience, such indirect speech has the power to catch us unawares. It can suddenly slip through our defenses and pierce our hardened hearts with unexpected meaning. An important lesson for the times when we might find ourselves resisting God. When it’s difficult to gaze upon the radiance of God, when for whatever reason we prefer to linger in a place of darkness, perhaps we can yet carry and ponder some of the Lord’s parables in our hearts. And these helpful stories are to be found not just in the bible, but everywhere around us – in the newspapers, in the cinema, in the people we meet… Perhaps these can keep us company even as we await the dawning of the third day.
How might we prepare to encounter God at the wall today?