Today’s Scripture Readings
Proverbs and even the Psalm can sound like a lot of rules. That’s how I have often taken many of them. The actual response to the Psalm is all about following God’s commands. My gut can get tight when I read things that talk about God’s commandments. It feels like laying down lots of rules I should be following. It makes me resistant, what is called hardhearted in Biblical terms.
However, on closer reading this isn’t so much about God dictating rules for us to follow as it is about our learning what God is trying to say to us. The Psalm response is actually asking for guidance about those commands: “Guide us, O Lord, in the way of your commands.” Notice too that there is a “way of” those commands. It’s not a list of hard and fast rules we’re talking about. Rather this is a pathway that needs to be understood: “Make me understand the way of your precepts.” The responses continue with efforts at deeper understanding: “I will meditate on your wondrous deeds.” In fact, I think the key to today’s readings is captured in another of the Psalm responses,
“Give me discernment, that I may observe your law
and keep it with all my heart.”
The two key elements expressed here are the need for discernment and heart.
Too often we can reduce the relationship between God and humanity to an all-powerful deity making rules for people to follow. It’s easy to consider the key to Christian living as the Ten Commandments or even the more demanding Beatitudes. So that way of thinking makes it easy to miss the other signals in scripture readings. Signals like God is actually seeking a close personal relationship, one based on love and care. Although today’s Gospel might sound dismissive at first it helps point to the “heart” of the matter. When told his mother and brother are asking to see him, Jesus says, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.” This is the evangelist trying to tell us something about Christian faith: hearing the word of God and living by it is entering into a family, the family of God.
Dealing with family members is always a matter of heart. We love these people even when they drive us crazy. Whatever a family member does, whatever family member asks is always filtered through the heart, the love we feel for them. That’s the lens we need to use in dealing with what goes on with God. What is our heart telling us? That kind of interpretation or listening is what we mean by discernment. Discernment is more than weighing evidence for or against some decision. Discerning asks our heart, our feelings to enter into the process. What’s going on for us? What is my heart telling me in this situation? That’s the way we need to listen to God. Whether it’s reading scripture passages or facing situations in life, the question is, what is God saying to me in this, right now?
How people answered what they understood God was doing with them produced the Proverbs and Psalms and much more in the Bible. It’s what people heard in their effort to listen to God. Over the centuries other believers recognized the truth for themselves in those words and preserved them. Today, we need to discern what God is saying to us and live by it. If we can learn to listen to God’s word wherever we find it then we too will be part of this family and able to honestly say, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” Then life won’t feel like rules anymore.