Harden Not Your Hearts
ʺFaithfulness has disappeared; the word itself is banished from their speech.ʺ (Jeremiah 7:28)
This word comes at the end of a passage where God says to the people: ʺListen to my voice; then I will be your God and you shall be my people. Walk in all the ways that I command you, so that you may prosper.ʺ (Jer. 7:23) Then God goes on to reveal how the people have not listened. They have, instead, walked away, hardened their hearts, turned their backs on him. He speaks of how he has sent many servants, prophets, to them but they have treated them worse than their fathers had. He tells Jeremiah to say to the people, ʺThis is the nation that does not listen to the voice of the Lord, its God, or take correction. Faithfulness has disappeared; the word itself is banished from their speech.ʺ (Jer. 7:28)
This could serve just as well as a description of our own times. Do we not live among more and more people who reject not just the word of God, but God himself? The word ʺfaithfulnessʺ has been either diminished to a pathetic cartoon of itself, or has been completely dropped from the vocabulary of most people. You do not hear it spoken of much at all. With the levels of divorce, co-habitation without marriage, single-parent families, it is clear that ʺfaithfulnessʺ has little meaning today. It has been replaced with ideas like ʺfriends with benefitsʺ and relativist philosophies that argue the narcissist anthem, ʺit’s all about me.ʺ
In the second Letter to Timothy, Paul writes: ʺFor the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths.ʺ (2 Timothy 4:3) And so it is today in our so-called ʺpopular culture.ʺ We see the evidences of this in politics, in Hollywood, in much of the news media, even in our daily lives at work. It is so pervasive that it is almost not even recognized today. If it is, it gets little more reaction than an arrogant smirk of ridicule. Paul tells Timothy how to respond to it though when he says, ʺBut you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry.ʺ (2 Timothy 4:5) And this is what the Lord is saying to each of us today as followers of Christ.
We are still living in apostolic times. We live in an environment of hedonism and greed that is no different than the times that Paul and Timothy were living in. It is just as important for those of us who believe today to be ʺevangelistsʺ in the midst of all of this cynicism and doubt. We must be mature (self-possessed) enough to be faithful to God’s words, to be courageous enough to speak of his love, his mercy, his redemption, with our words, but more importantly with our own deeds, so that those around us will know God through our words and actions, clearly, simply, invitingly. We are to evangelize as Jesus did. This means that we must be able to ʺput up with hardshipsʺ for living this way, just as Jesus did. We must, as Jesus did, ʺfulfill our ministry.ʺ If we are mature enough, self-possessed enough in our faith, we know that God will be with us in all of this. We know that he will not abandon us in our trials, that he will give us all the graces we need to continue the ministry we have been given. He will even, through his Holy Spirit, give us the words, the insights, we need in all circumstances.
As mature Christians we ought to evangelize with joyful confidence, not with attitudes of arrogant superiority, or with the astringent pompousness of puritanical prissiness. Though the apostles experienced much rejection, even abuse, they continued to evangelize with joy. They could do so because they knew Jesus. They could do so because they understood in their hearts and souls that God’s love was greater than any rejection, ridicule, or faithlessness that the world could throw at them. They knew, too, by experience, that living in accord with God’s law was the source of their truest happiness.
Lent gives us an opportunity to, once again, reflect on God’s call to us. It is a time to question ourselves as to how enthusiastically we are working for the kingdom of God. Are we ʺlisteningʺ to God’s voice? Are we opening our hearts and following his counsel? Are we his faithful servants and evangelists? We certainly wish to be nothing less. We know we are weak and that we sometimes fail, but so did the apostles at times. The one thing the apostles knew, and that we know, is that, ʺIf today we hear God’s voice,ʺ we will not harden our hearts to it. We will respond with all of our desire, depending completely on his grace to be able to do so. ʺThy will be done,ʺ is our most fervent prayer. Amen.