The verse before the gospel in today’s lectionary readings caught my eye – not because it is unfamiliar. Rather it has come, because of a conversation in a wisdom retreat, to be cause for deeper searching. The line from the Letter to the Hebrews says this: The word of God is living and effective, able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. (HEB 4:12) Chapters 3 and 4 of this letter consider how God’s people through the ages have or have not paid attention to God – a commentary on the more familiar: If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts. To our benefit, God has sent Jesus as a compassionate high priest who knows our weaknesses and is able to sympathize with us so that we are able to “hold fast to the faith” and thereby “enter into our rest” at the end of our lives.
The interesting thing about the verse under consideration, however, is that it seems to personify the word of God by saying that it is the word itself that is able to discern our deepest thoughts. The message at our retreat conversation was something like the following: If the printed word stays flat on a page, it has no power. It’s when it is spoken that there is a possibility of response. I have known this to be true at conferences with charismatic speakers, liturgies where the energy of the homilist makes the words come alive, and so on. We can be inspired by metaphor or images used for emphasis. In its entirety the gospel verse above says this: Indeed, God’s word is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword. It penetrates and divides the soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the reflections and thoughts of the heart. Quite a bit more vivid, I’d say, living and effective, indeed. “Cutting to the quick,” you might add, so that the words fairly jump off the page and settle somewhere deep with us if we are awake and open to their power.
Then to the further point about Jesus. He was able to sympathize with us because he came as “one like us in all things but sin.” One of the familiar titles given to Jesus is Word of God. Jesus was so focused on his mission that all of his words and actions fairly shouted God to the people. Reading about him in the Scriptures can inspire us to follow his example. But until we are so saturated by the “word” spoken by his entire life that we are transformed, the words continue to lie flat on the pages of our life. A favorite prayer that I often sing to begin my morning meditation speaks my desire for the living Word of God to be sparked into fire in my life. David Haas has written it as a gospel acclamation. (You can find it on Youtube as Come Now, O Word of God). Admittedly, the music helps a lot, but here are the words:
Fill our minds that we may learn your wisdom. Touch our lips that we may speak your truth. Hold our hearts that we may always follow you. Come now, O Word of God!