Every day, the Church begins the Liturgy of the Hours with Psalm 95. (There are some other options, but this is the traditional psalm to begin the day’s prayer.) Today’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews offers a reflection on that psalm and how it relates to the community to which the letter was addressed.
The Letter to the Hebrews was written when the Church first started to experience some defections. People who had accepted baptism and subsequently gave up their faith in Jesus were called “apostates.” After the experience of Pentecost, thousands of people accepted baptism. The preaching of the apostles was very effective. However, human nature being what it is, that first fervor died as the return of Jesus was delayed. Originally the apostles had thought Jesus would return just one year after his return to the Father. However, as the years accumulated, some of those who had converted to “The Way” began to lose faith and returned to their former way of life.
The sacred writer reminds the community of the rebellion that their ancestors staged in the desert after their release from the slavery of Egypt. The author likens their experience to that of their ancestors who were also extremely enthused about serving God immediately after the Exodus. However, as the years dragged on and they found themselves “stuck” in the desert, they began to murmur against God and Moses. Eventually this led to rebellion. They were thirsty and demanded that Moses supply them with water, backing their demands with threats. They got their water, but they were also told that they would wander in the desert until all those who had rebelled had died.
“Oh that today you would hear his voice. Harden not your hearts. . .” (Psalm 95:7c-8a; Hebrews 3:7c-8a) Let us focus on the word “today” in this verse. Turning to the Lord, listening to the Lord’s voice, following the Lord’s commands are all experiences that we must undertake today. Conversion, dedication to the Lord’s ways, leading a life in compliance with God’s will are commitments that demand daily renewal. Listening to God’s Word is something we need to do every day. Otherwise, we will find ourselves drifting away from the life of faith just as surely as our rebellious ancestors at the time of Moses as well as those who left the faith in the first century.
For those who have left, let us never forget that God is always ready to forgive AND forget.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator