Lectionary Reflections for August 7, 2011

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a

Psalm 85:9-14

Romans 9:1-5

Matthew 14:22-33

“Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of man [sic]. There he is alone with God, whose voice echoes in his depths” (Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, no. 16).

All of the scripture readings here presuppose that their audience, the people of God, is experiencing serious turmoil. Jezebel has threatened the prophet Elijah’s life, and in fear he flees to a cave for shelter. Psalm 85 is a group lament, praying for deliverance from national adversity. Paul writes to the Christian community in Rome that “I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart…for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh,” that is, the Jews. The author of Matthew’s gospel seeks to reassure a young church community that feels, like the disciples on the boat, “tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.” In each of these instances, God speaks a promising word to be not afraid. The day will come when there will be peace; as the Psalmist puts it: “Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss.”

Today at home and abroad, where fear seems rampant (economic woes, the ongoing threat of terrorist attacks, global climate change, etc.), the people of God continue to need to hear this word of encouragement. In the midst of these storms of life, we may even need to take the time to stop for a moment and to be silent–in order to hear God speak to us like “a tiny whispering sound” that Elijah heard or, as Paul indicated, in our conscience where we encounter the Holy Spirit. Although in the Hebrew scriptures there is no word that translates as “conscience” directly, the basic concept is there when reference is made to the heart, as when Solomon asked God for an understanding heart “able to discern between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:1-9). In the New Testament, the word “conscience” (syneidesis) appears 2 times in Acts and 27 times in the epistles (mostly those penned by Paul). Of course, it is hard at times to follow our conscience, especially if it goes against the current. Yet, we must. To be sure, conscience is as much a verb as a noun, and it must be informed and formed rightly. Conscience is not something that has to do with the individual alone. As Baptist ethicist Roger H. Crook advises, “We feel an obligation to enlighten our consciences with the best information available, to bring to them all of the resources of the community of faith, and to listen for the voice of God” (An Introduction to Christian Ethics, 4th ed., 64). Nevertheless, as Richard C. Sparks, C.S.P., has written, “we ultimately make our conscience decisions in the silence of our own hearts, where God’s voice echoes within” (Contemporary Christian Morality, 15).