Summary: The divine word reveals the tragic possibility that human freedom can withdraw from the covenant dialogue with God

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August 20, 2012

St. Bernard

Verbum Domini

My habit of preaching on Mondays brings me every two years squarely in the path of two of my least favorite readings from the Word of God. This is the day we hear them. In the first place, Ezekiel, who was a prophet-mime, is told by God that he had awakened to the worst day of his life, that in order to get the attention of his audience in Babylon, he was going to live through the loss of the delight of his eyes. I can empathize with that, because that almost happened to us not quite two years ago, and the experience is wrenching. Ezekiel’s loss, and his mourning, would be played out on a larger scale when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Judea for the second time and destroyed the delight of the Israelites’ eyes, their temple. We’ve been hearing for the last few weekdays about their sins of idolatry and injustice. Ultimately it was just too much–God had to let their sins punish them, or his own justice would be mocked.

In the Gospel, I get to hear how little I have followed the Lord. This rich young fellow actually kept all the ten commandments–from his youth, it says–and is looking for something else to do to gain God’s favor. He balks at selling his many possessions and becoming a wandering prophet like Jesus. But in my life, the ten commandments and I have not gotten along nearly as well, let alone selling everything and giving it to the poor. There is sin in life, in my life, in your life, and it gets in the way of our relationship with the Father, and with our fellow human beings.

The Holy Father teaches us that “The word of God also inevitably reveals the tragic possibility that human freedom can withdraw from [the] covenant dialogue with God for which we were created. The divine word also discloses the sin that lurks in the human heart. Quite frequently in both the Old and in the New Testament, we find sin described as a refusal to hear the word, as a breaking of the covenant and thus as being closed to God who calls us to communion with himself. Sacred Scripture shows how man’s sin is essentially disobedience and refusal to hear. The radical obedience of Jesus even to his death on the cross (cf. Phil 2:8) completely unmasks this sin. His obedience brings about the New Covenant between God and man, and grants us the possibility of reconciliation. Jesus was sent by the Father as a sacrifice of atonement for our sins and for those of the whole world (cf. 1 Jn 2:2; 4:10; Heb 7:27). We are thus offered the merciful possibility of redemption and the start of a new life in Christ.

He stresses that it is important that all of us be taught to acknowledge that the root of sin lies in the refusal to hear the word of the Lord, and to accept in Jesus, the Word of God, the forgiveness which opens us to salvation.

Now we live in a culture in which refusing to hear the word of the Lord, to acknowledge that sin is real in its life, is part of the cultural DNA. I read a couple of days ago that “In July, Georgetown University expelled Jarrett Roby from their Community Scholars Program which, according to the university, provides Georgetown students with the unique opportunity to thrive. Scholars are carefully selected during the admissions process based on their academic achievement, impressive co-curricular accomplishments, and commitment to the transformative power of education. They typically represent diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, and are often first generation college students.”

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