Thursday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
A few years ago I had a voice teacher who was helping me learn and memorize a new piece of music. I knew the music, but I found that I would get stuck on the words. She was confident that the words were already in my heart, I just had to relax my mind and allow the words to “bubble up.” Well, I tried it, and she was right. When I wasn’t thinking so hard about it, the words floated up and I knew them. This is what I think of as knowing something “by heart.”
Today’s first reading (Jeremiah 31: 31-34) brings this experience to mind as I read about the Lord promising to make a new covenant with the house of Israel: “I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts…No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the Lord.” The prophet Jeremiah is indicating that knowledge of God will be so widely shown forth in the life of the people that it will no longer be necessary to put it into words of instructions. God’s law will be known in the hearts of the people; they will know it “by heart.”
In a similar way in today’s gospel from Matthew (16: 13-23), Jesus blesses Simon Peter for confessing that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” pointing out that this was not revealed to Simon Peter by “flesh and blood,” (human beings) but by “my heavenly Father.” Simon Peter was tuned in to his heart and responding to what God had revealed to him.
Interestingly, at the end of this gospel reading, following Jesus’ naming of Peter (which means “rock”) as the one on whom he will build his church, we are shown how Peter is not always tuned in to God and what is “written on his heart.” The author of this gospel tells us that Jesus began to reveal to his disciples that he will suffer, be killed, and then raised on the third day. When Peter, speaking out of his very human fears and love for Jesus, exclaimed, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you,” Jesus responds rather harshly to Peter, “Get behind me Satan!” The one whom Jesus had named Rock of the church was now being called “Satan” for being an obstacle to Jesus. “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” (vs.23)
I get where Peter is coming from, but it’s also a reminder for us to listen to God’s voice and words within us, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal God’s truths to us and open our hearts to God’s ways, rather than our own ways. Personally, I find it reassuring to know that even Peter, Rock of the Church, didn’t always get it right. (He was also the one who would deny Jesus three times!) Thankfully, God uses us even with our shortcomings and weaknesses.
Do we listen for God's ways written in our hearts? Let us take some quiet time in prayer and in reading the Scriptures this week to tune out the many other desires and distractions in our lives and tune in to hear God’s voice and know God’s way, “by heart."
- Eileen Miller