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Thirty-First Sunday of the Year

The Human Voice of God

One morning in our Priory of Holy Cross in Leicester, I was cleaning my teeth in preparation for Morning Prayer, which is very important when you have choral prayer in a small chapel. It was seven in the morning and I suddenly heard a voice saying, 'What do you want?' It was my mothers voice, which was somewhat alarming, not because it was my mothers voice -- well not just because it was my mothers voice -- but because she was supposed to be in Glasgow where she lives.

Pausing only to remove the toothbrush, which I had somehow managed to wedge in my nose, I said, 'What do you mean, what do I want?'
'What do you think I mean?'
'Well, where are you then?'
'Where do you think I am, I'm here!'

At this point, I opened my bedroom door and looked up and down the corridor but there was no sign of her. This was starting to get seriously spooky. I came back into my room and said, 'Where's here?'
'Where do you think here is?'

A good question to which I had no good answer. Then I realised what had happened. My phone was under a pile of clothes on the floor and I had somehow stood on them, pressing the speaker phone button and the last number redial. So the disembodied voice of my mother was her speaking on the phone from under a pile of clothes.

There is something distinctly frightening about a disembodied voice. Perhaps it's a sign of the fear that entered into the human heart when we first started to sign and hid our faces from God.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the breeze of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. (Genesis 3:8)

The voice of the Lord is something fearful in the Old Testament, as in the 29th Psalm, where the voice of the Lord strips the forest bare, and shakes the wilderness. Perhaps we could never have heard the voice of God without fear, still less could we look in his face. So in the Old Testament God has to speak increasingly through prophets, who themselves hear God through their own speech. As the Prophets struggle and ultimately fail to speak for God, the way is prepared for the coming of the Christ.

Jesus is truly the embodied voice of God. It is a voice that still inspires fear of a sort. The high priests and scribes are afraid of him because the people are astonished at his teaching. Yet it is a human voice, and as such a voice that can be treated with disrespect.

Far from hiding from this voice, the various parties that Mark speaks of come up to Jesus and try to silence him by their questions. These are questions which are asked not with a view to finding answers but with a view to avoiding answers. They ask him about his authority, try to trap him in regard to the question of paying taxes to the Romans, and the Sadducees seek to show the impossibility of the Resurrection through a question about marriage.

In doing this, the opponents of Jesus damage their own speech. We cannot force the truth out of others, but we can choose to speak the truth, just as we can choose to love, but not to be loved. Yet in speaking truth, we make it possible for the truth to come to us. It is in giving that we receive and this is especially true of truth itself.

It is remarkable how many of the great sayings of the Gospel of Mark are not from Jesus himself but are drawn out from those who speak to Jesus. 'Lord, I believe, help my unbelief', 'Even the dogs under the table, eat from the children's crumbs.' When the scribe comes into the conversation, he not only asks a question but shows his willingness to speak of his own conviction, that these two commandments are greater than any sacrifice and holocaust.

So the voice of God has become flesh, and in doing so, part of the meaning of the incarnation is that from now on, all the truth of God will be spoken in dialogue with humanity, not in a monologue. In Jesus, we have heard the voice of God, and we are not afraid.

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