Moses had found it extremely hard leading the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt and through the perils of the desert: their self-confidence as individuals, and above all their cohesiveness as one People of God, had still to be established; with the result that throughout their travels they found it hard to maintain firm trust or sure confidence in the Lord, let alone give steadfast obedience to His commands given Moses for their guidance. So perhaps there was some irony in Moses’ voice when -- referring to the ‘prophet to come’ promised by the Lord -- he warned them:
To him you shall listen.
We then heard words from the Lord Himself telling why it would be so very important for them to listen to the promised prophet better than they had thus far listened to Moses:
If any man will not listen to My words which he speaks in My name (and at My command), I Myself will make him answer for it.
After Moses, the Lord did indeed raise up a whole series of prophets: prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Micah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and others, whose inspired messages live on in the Bible still proclaiming the goodness and glory of God to this very day. But even though they spoke faithfully in the name of the Lord God of Israel, we find only too often that their words were soon forgotten and His message largely ignored, as the Lord Himself averred through the prophet Jeremiah (35:15s.):
I have sent to you all My servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them; but you have not inclined your ear, nor obeyed Me.
In Isaiah, indeed, His words are most dramatic and much more reproachful:
Hear, you deaf! And look, you blind, that you may see. You have seen many things, but you do not observe them; your ears are open, but none hears. (Isaiah 42:18-20)
A prophet was specially called and sent to speak words entrusted to him by God; and should such a prophet betray his calling by substituting his own words for those of God, -- which was always a possibility because of human sinfulness and the attention, both flattering and threatening, accorded to a recognized prophet -- God had warned:
If a prophet presumes to speak in My name an oracle that I have not commanded him to speak, or speaks in the name of other gods, he shall die.
And so, when the prophet Hananiah did presume to speak falsely in the Lord’s name he had to die, as we hear from Jeremiah:
The prophet Jeremiah said, "Hear now, Hananiah, the LORD has not sent you, but you make this people trust in a lie. Therefore thus says the LORD: 'Behold, I will cast you from the face of the earth. This year you shall die, because you have taught rebellion against the LORD.'" So Hananiah died the same year in the seventh month. (Jeremiah 28:15-17)
The same thing happened in the time of Ezekiel and the Babylonian exile:
“You say, 'The LORD says,' but I have not spoken.” Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: "Because you have spoken nonsense and envisioned lies, therefore I am indeed against you," says the Lord GOD. “My hand will be against the prophets who envision futility and who divine lies; they shall not be in the assembly of My people, nor be written in the record of the house of Israel, nor shall they enter into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord GOD.” (Ezekiel 13:6-9)
And so, the Lord took great care to have His word faithfully proclaimed and publicly appreciated in Israel; but, for all that, His true prophets – despite their faithfully giving voice to His authentic message – were routinely ignored by the people and frequently opposed by leaders inclined to expect and listen only to what they wanted to hear, not the authentic word of God:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! (Matthew 23:37)
Nevertheless, despite such indifference and resistance to true prophets and the authentic word of God, the promise of the prophet to come -- the ultimate prophet -- was not forgotten by faithful Israelites, nor was there total ignorance concerning the supreme importance of the message He would bring, about which the Lord Himself had said to Moses:
If any man will not listen to My words which he speaks in My name, I Myself will make him answer for it.
Now you are in a position to appreciate the serious intent of those priests and Levites who, on behalf of the Jews in Jerusalem, questioned John the Baptist:
Are you the Prophet? (John 1:21)
Recall again what Moses said of the prophet to come:
To Him you shall listen.
And recall also the voice of the Father speaking from heaven to Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration:
This is My beloved Son. Listen to Him! (Mark 9:7)
We believers now know the reason why the Prophet promised by God through Moses would speak with such authority in God’s name: it is because the Prophet-to-come would be the very Word of God Himself made flesh:
Jesus answered, "My doctrine is not Mine but His Who sent Me. I and My Father are One." (John 7:16, 10:30)
It is, perhaps, a testimony to a renewed sincerity of religious life in Israel in the times of the Messiah, that those in the synagogue listening to Jesus’ words, recognized what they had not encountered before:
The people were astonished at his teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes…. All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A teaching with authority!
It was not simply in His religious teaching that Jesus’ authority was recognizable; His whole being and bearing bespoke that aspect of His Person so compellingly that we have, in this regard, the most beautiful and amazingly spontaneous testimony of one completely formed by, responsive to, and appreciative of, authority in all its aspects; one who, even though a pagan, used such authority as a suitable instrument for promoting care and expressing reverence:
When Jesus entered Capernaum a centurion came to Him pleading with Him saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.” Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But speak only a word and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority and have soldiers under me …” (Matthew 8:5-9)
Now, People of God, that same Jesus speaks to us in and through Mother Church today; indeed, He is speaking now, at this very moment, as I proclaim His word to you, in His name. And we must always bear in mind that He was, and still is, the Saviour of those -- and only those -- who want to be saved and are willing to acknowledge and accept His authority. Many of the Jews to whom He spoke would not accept His teaching-with-authority and did not appreciate His Person; those He left to themselves, not seeking to force Himself upon them:
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. (Mt. 9:13)
And so each of us must answer a secret question arising from the depths of our heart: “Do I want to be left in the peace of my own comfortable indifference or do I want to be rescued from my sinfulness. Do I want Jesus to be my Saviour?” If you really want Jesus to be your Saviour: a Rock of strength and security for you, a light to reveal the true beauty of life and to guide you surely along the right way through life; if you want Him to be your present joy and your eternal reward, your earthly wisdom and your heavenly glory; in other words, if you want to become in Him a true child of God and to share in His eternal blessedness in the Kingdom of the Father, then you must accord Him authority in your life now, here on earth.
Listen to Our Lord Himself again (John 7:16s.):
Jesus answered them and said, "My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.
“If anyone wants to do God’s will, he shall know, he will realize …” God has done His work by giving us His Son Who died and rose again for us, and offering His Spirit to guide and form us as His children; but we have to choose:
“If anyone wants to do God’s will, Jesus said, he will know the truth of My teaching.” (John 7:16-17)
People of God, if you want God to be big in your life, if you desire to be His and to do His will, then make Him big in your life and He will indeed become big for you. There is no chance that He will become big in your life if you treat Him as someone of minor importance: if He is so unimportant in your life that you don’t find it at all difficult to miss Sunday Mass for even minor reasons; if you really can’t find time to pray because of your many other jobs and more important duties; if whatever calls for your worldly attention outweighs His claims on you; if He is always the one who can be, and is, set aside, put off, to some other day, some other occasion… then He will never become big in your life whatever words of prayer or praise you may occasionally direct His way, or whatever excuses you may regularly proffer on your own behalf.
Jesus never fails His People; the fact is that too few of those who call themselves Christians and Catholics do in fact acknowledge Him as Lord and Saviour here and now in their daily living and earthly aspirations: they may give Him the biblical and liturgical titles of Lord and Saviour indeed, but not the present authority of Lord and Saviour in the important decisions of their lives, the deepest longings of their hearts, and the highest aspirations of their minds And if He is not in that way authoritative in your life, then, in fact, you are not close to Him; and perhaps He is not purposefully in your life at all, perhaps all you are allowing Him to do with you, for you, is to stand outside, knocking at your door.
Authority is not a dirty word that has to be submerged and forgotten in a flood of emotional goodness; nor is it something embarrassing, to be avoided by jokes or ‘folksy’, popular talk; for true love cannot be exercised without authority … that is why a world of masculine authority without female caring, or a world of feminine caring without masculine authority are both loveless worlds, where the chaos and hypocrisy of selfishness reign, and where children, in their original simplicity, are disadvantaged and harmed by physical or emotional oppression. People of God, the authority that God wills for Himself and for His Church is wholly for our eternal salvation and, indeed, for our earthly peace, joy, and fulfilment; we must, therefore, allow His true love, His authoritative love, to touch, inform, and gradually transform our lives.