Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah in today’s Gospel when He says: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” And then Saint James tells us in today’s second reading: “Be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.”
Preaching the Word of God is a mighty responsibility, and I accept this ministry with a great deal of trepidation and prayer. Our world offers a lot of messages that try to “elbow out” the Word of God. One of these ideas is that psychology can take the place of God. Now psychology and therapy are good and helpful things. But they don’t replace our need for God.
“Psychologizing” the Gospel reduces discipleship to self-esteem. It reduces sin to maladjustment. It reduces the Church to group therapy. And it reduces Jesus our Savior to a cosmic “Dear Abby.”
Jesus did minister to people by comforting them and encouraging them, as the Scriptures tell us. But Jesus did not come to our world simply to help us feel better about ourselves and then leave us just the way we are. He came to save us from our sins and offer us eternal life in heaven.
And His Holy Word, the Bible, is given to us not simply to be heard, but to be taken to heart: to convert us, to change us, to detoxify us from the wages of sin. The Scriptures are given to us so that we can listen to them and come to Jesus Christ with all of our hearts.
We come to Church not only for comfort but also for the truth that will set us free. And this truth calls us to honesty, confession and ongoing conversion. Listen again to Jesus in today’s Gospel when He says: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” And then to Saint James: “Be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.”
Remember a time when you have been disappointed by other people, when you had a dream and needed their cooperation to accomplish it, and they failed you. Maybe what really disappointed you was that their hearts were not with yours. This can happen in a marriage, in a family, among colleagues at work, among classmates, between friends, and even within a parish community.
Now, imagine how God feels about our lack of cooperation to fulfill His dream for us, His plan for us — when we honor Him with our lips but our hearts are far from Him.
When we listen to God’s Word, our first question should always be: “Lord, what are you saying to me right now?” And not: “Lord, what has all this got to do with anything?”
Sometimes we do not want to listen to what God wants to tell us, but we still need to face the truth. And we must not only hear what God has to say but we must also take His Word to heart. We must be doers of His Word.
And so, I have a huge responsibility each week – each day – in preaching God’s Holy Word. My charge is not to tame God’s Word into being “user-friendly.” It is not to package it in a small attractive gift box – like that is all there is to it. It is not to put God’s Word in a little cage like people do with their pets when they take them on airplanes.
My responsibility is to unleash God’s Word – to allow God to get to us. To allow God to get into our hearts, so that we are not simply hearers, but that our hearing leads us to be doers of His Word.
And so today I ask you to take these two verses from today’s Scripture readings – through your hearing and into your hearts. Allow God to speak to you as God wants to speak to you. And as you listen, say to God: “Lord, what are you saying to me right now?”
And here are those inspired words once again: Jesus says: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” And Saint James continues: “Be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.”
If you take these lines from God’s Word into your own heart right now, you will have heard plenty from this preacher today. God will take care of the rest.