17 January. Thursday of Week 1
1st Reading: Hebrews 3:7-14
Open our hearts to God, not hardened by sin
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, as on the day of testing in the desert, where your ancestors put me to the test, though they had seen my works for forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, ad I said, ‘They always go astray in their hearts, and they have not known my ways.’ As in my anger I swore, ‘They will not enter my rest.’”
Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end. (R./)
Responsorial: Psalm 94:6-11
Response: If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come in; let us bow and bend low;
let us kneel before the God who made us.
For he is our God and we the people who belong to his pasture,
the flock that is led by his hand. (R./)
O that today you would listen to his voice.
“Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as on that day at Massah in the desert
when your fathers put me to the test;
when they tried me, though they saw my work.” (R./)
“For forty years I was wearied of these people
and I said: ‘Their hearts are astray,
these people do not know my ways.’
Then I took an oath in my anger:
‘Never shall they enter my rest.’” (R./)
Gospel: Mark 1:40-45
Jesus touches and cures the leper, who goes and tells everyone about it
A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean.” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
True and false fidelity
“Value today,” advises the psalmist, whose text is quoted in Hebrews, because right here and now God provides the grace and insight we need to live a life of faith, and therefore to enjoy a true spirit of peace. The Bible highlights faith in order to interpret the events of our lives. But this is not so much a dogmatic faith as an openness to God’s guiding spirit. As today’s reading insists, right here and now we must not harden our hearts. We must be open to new impulses, inspired by God’s personal presence in our lives. Faith must be experienced and lived Today, and not as mere fidelity to forms of the past. The externals of our religion, even the most solemn of doctrines and the holiest of objects or sacraments, exist in order to facilitate inner communion with the Lord. Our inmost hearts are the true Ark of the Covenant and the place of encounter with the living God. Sometimes, for whatevef mysterious reasons, the externals on which we tend to rely seem to slump and almost collapse. In many places attendance at our church services has dwindled and religious expressions hallowed by time seem unable to contact today’s Zeitgeist and leave us wondering how to share the faith with our contemporaries. It seems that we must cross this desert as the Israelites once did, to find our God again.
Discerning true from false fidelity is not always easy. We Christians and our leaders must bear our share of blame if agnosticism, superstition and New-Age fads are rampant among our people today, in part due to outmoded ways of presenting our handed-down Catholic faith. Every believer has some role in commending the faith, within our proper field: as parent or teacher, as priest or minister, as neighbour or friend. In our interactions we can and do influence others and can help them recover their former strength of faith and a more robust moral vision.
Today’s Scriptures raise questions about governance, for bishops and all church leaders: Do I use my authority to serve my people, or to dominate them in the name of a hidebound system? Do I seek to reflect with others on what our times require, in light of the Gospel and current opinion, as well as listening to guidance from the Vatican? Does my teaching and example help my people be aware of God’s presence? Do I seek ways to bridge the current painful breakdown in communicating the faith?
Touching the leper
Often Jesus healed people by just his spoken word “Be healed!” But in his care for the poor leper, however, Jesus not only spoke to him, but physically touched him. In making physical contact with the man suffering from leprosy, Jesus did what was never done by people in that time and place. For obvious reasons, people kept lepers at a distance, and lepers were expected to keep their distance from others. Yet it was the character of Jesus to contact people and keep nobody at a distance, not even one so ill as this leper. Nobody was beyond his reach; nobody was untouchable. He came to touch our lives in a very tangible way, all of our lives, regardless of our condition. The leper wasn’t sure whether Jesus wanted to heal him, as is clear from his opening words to Jesus, “If you want to, you can cure me.” Jesus showed he wanted to heal him, by touching him. Jesus wants to touch all of our lives, because he wants to bring life to us all. Nothing we do or fail to do, no circumstance in which we find ourselves, need place us beyond his reach. As Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “nothing can come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus.” The Lord touches our lives, where we are, as we are. All we need is something of the leper’s initiative in approaching Jesus.