There are so many voices claiming to speak to us with authority in our day, it is no wonder that so many are confused and misled. These voices come to us through our news and talk media, our entertainment industry, our government, our schools and universities, our religion and even from our friends and associates. Sometimes, the cacophony is so overwhelming, I find myself simply wanting to press some magical mute button to shut it all out. But the reality is that the messages conveyed are often planted in our minds and the consequences to us can be dire if we do not discern what is true from what is false.
Where can we find true teaching and authentic voices?
As the Israelites were set to enter the Promised Land, Moses said to them, “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kinsmen; to him you shall listen.” (Deuteronomy 18:15)
Remember, God would not allow Moses to enter the Promised Land. So, Moses reminded the Israelites that previously, they had requested that Moses speak to them for God, “This is exactly what you requested of the Lord, your God, at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let us not again hear the voice of the LORD, our God, nor see this great fire any more, lest we die.’” (Deuteronomy 18:16)
He spoke to them of the clamoring voices that inhabited the land which they would enter that would claim to speak with authority they did not truly have. This is why the Israelites would have to dispossess the Promised Land of its inhabitants. This is why the Lord promised another prophet like Moses. Moses did not speak with false authority, but with the authority of God. And God promised a future prophet that would also speak with authority.
This is a very important point. The world is filled with false prophets. How will we know the true prophet when he comes? No question is more important, for to follow the voices of false prophets is to walk on the path that leads to destruction.
Voices that compete with the Truth
In Psalm 95 we are instructed to listen to the voice of the Lord and not to harden our hearts or grow stubborn. The question for us is, “Whose voice do we listen to today?”
One of the first steps necessary for our spiritual growth is to identify the voices we listen to. We might well believe that we love God and listen to Him, but in truth, we follow not His voice, but the voice of others. We need to then be aware of those other voices and their impact on our actions. Let me try to identify just a few of those voices that we might listen to instead of the Lord’s.
- The Voice of Self – It is rightly taught that the first of the Capital Sins is pride. We live in an age when so many are self-absorbed. Do I place self above all else? Do I elevate my wants above my needs and the needs of others? In a world in which there is so much want and suffering, is it only my own that I take notice of? If we are to progress at all towards our true home in heaven, we have to pray for the grace and practice of humility and charity. Nearly all of the other voices employ the reality of our pride against us.
- The Voice of Career – Our true vocation is to say yes to God’s loving call lived out in the ordained life, the religious life, the married life or the single life. Too many of us have confused our careers with our vocations. We sacrifice our vocation as wives and husbands to support our careers when it is our careers that are intended to support our vocations.
- The Voice of Gratification – We have become a people of unrestrained pleasure. We seem to seek comfort, thrills, power and wealth and we want it all right now. We have forgotten how short this life is and how long is the life to come. And so we are disposed to sacrifice the one true good – that is God – for the illusory and temporary feelings of pleasure that sin provides.
- The Voice of False Knowledge – One of the preternatural gifts lost through Original Sin is the infused knowledge of God, self, and our reason for being. It is only from God and those He has appointed to teach that we can re-learn these important truths. Yet we behave as if we who live in the 21st Century know better and more than He does. We spend more time seeking false teachers and putting greater stock in what they have to say than we do seeking God and listening to His voice spoken through His Son and His Church.
The Truth will astonish you!
These are just a few of the competing voices that lead us away from God and His plan for our lives. Why do we listen to them? Surely we know by now that they lead to misery and not joy. Maybe we need to hear anew the Gospel and be astonished by its message.
Over the course of the history of the Israelites, there were true prophets sent to the people from God, but none of these were prophets of the same stature as Moses. For the most part, at the time of Jesus, the Jews listened to teachers that had learned from other teachers. These latter teachers would quote the former. You can imagine a string of teachers that stretched all the way back to Moses, whose authority was directly from God.
The episode in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus drives out a demon from a possessed person in a synagogue can be very helpful for us. Mark is very action-oriented in his portrayal of Jesus. His focus tends to be more on what Jesus does that delving deeply into what Jesus says. But, don’t think for a moment that this diminishes the teaching of the Lord. In a different way from the other Gospels, this approach drives the teaching home.
This episode takes place in the synagogue in Capernaum where Jesus entered and taught. This occurred at the very start of Jesus’ public ministry. The text tells us, “The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.” (Mark 1:22)
Why were his listeners astonished? For two reasons: first, probably because of what He taught and second, as the text states, because of how He taught – “not as the scribes.”
Jesus did not need to attribute His teaching back through a line of former rabbis; He did not even need to attribute it to Moses. Jesus taught from His own authority and those who heard him recognized this immediately. Whether or not they accepted His authority, we know that here was the prophet long promised. And more than a prophet, He is God Himself. He demonstrated the authority of His words through the driving out of the demon from the man with an unclean spirit. Note that he did not do so with some long-winded incantation, but with a simple command – “Quiet! Come out of him!” (Mark 1:25)
We modern people who know so much sometimes forget the wonder and awe of such a thing as authoritative teaching and miraculous healing. We fail to be astonished. We’ve heard it before. I invite you to hear it anew, as if for the first time.
This person we read about in Mark’s Gospel, this Jesus, is Almighty God Himself. And He has come to rid us of our unclean spirits and to restore to us the knowledge that was lost to us. He has not left us orphans, but has invited us to become adopted children of God in His family which is the Church. And He continues to teach and cure us through His authority and ministry which He entrusted to the Church. When you approach the Blessed Sacrament to receive Him in Holy Communion, be astonished all over again. And in the coming week, reflect on whose voice you listen to. Prepare to listen to His voice and harden not your heart.
Into the Deep…
Deacon Mike Bickerstaff is the Editor in chief and co-founder of the The Integrated Catholic Life™. A Catholic Deacon of the Roman Rite for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Deacon Bickerstaff is assigned to St. Peter Chanel Catholic Church where he is the Director of Adult Education and Evangelization.
He is a co-founder of the successful annual Atlanta Catholic Business Conference; the Chaplain of the Atlanta Chapter of the Woodstock Theological Center’s Business Conference; and Chaplains to the St. Peter Chanel Business Association and co-founder of the Marriages Are Covenants Ministry, both of which serve as models for similar parish-based ministries.
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Category: Into the Deep