Mar 24, 2022: Thursday of the Third Week of Lent

1st Reading – Jeremiah 7:23-28

Thus says the LORD: 
This is what I commanded my people:
Listen to my voice;
then I will be your God and you shall be my people.
Walk in all the ways that I command you,
so that you may prosper.

But they obeyed not, nor did they pay heed.
They walked in the hardness of their evil hearts
and turned their backs, not their faces, to me.
From the day that your fathers left the land of Egypt even to this day,
I have sent you untiringly all my servants the prophets.
Yet they have not obeyed me nor paid heed;
they have stiffened their necks and done worse than their fathers.
When you speak all these words to them,
they will not listen to you either;
when you call to them, they will not answer you.
Say to them:
This is the nation that does not listen
to the voice of the LORD, its God,
or take correction.
Faithfulness has disappeared;
the word itself is banished from their speech.

Today’s first reading is from the prophet Jeremiah, who called on the people to admit their sins and mend their ways, but his preaching fell on deaf ears. This Jeremiah to lament to God.

Thus says the LORD: This is what I commanded my people: Listen to my voice; then I will be your God and you shall be my people. Walk in all the ways that I command you, so that you may prosper.

God reminds the people of their original covenant arrangement when they were brought out of Egypt: they would obey him and he would make them his people (Exodus 15:26).

But they obeyed not, nor did they pay heed.

The people failed to obey. In fact, they failed to pay heed to what God had commanded them, as though the law had never been given.

They walked in the hardness of their evil hearts and turned their backs, not their faces, to me.

Jeremiah’s failure to reform the people is ascribed to the people’s hardheartedness, that is, the insensitivity that prevents them from examining their consciences in a desire to change where necessary and thus be able to hear the voice of God.

This obstinancy is a kind of inner resistance, an imperviousness to the voice of conscience. Pope Pius XII referenced this in a radio address in 1946 when he said, “The sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin.”

From the day that your fathers left the land of Egypt even to this day, I have sent you untiringly all my servants the prophets. Yet they have not obeyed me nor paid heed; they have stiffened their necks and done worse than their fathers. When you speak all these words to them, they will not listen to you either; when you call to them, they will not answer you.

Again and again, God sent prophets to the people to call them back from their selfish ways, to no avail. The people down through the generations were as deaf to the prophets as their ancestors were to the law: they too failed to obey or even take heed.

Say to them: This is the nation that does not listen to the voice of the LORD, its God, or take correction. Faithfulness has disappeared; the word itself is banished from their speech.

God instructs Jeremiah to call out the people’s obstinancy, forcing them to acknowledge their sinful ways. The people stubbornly refuse to submit to God’s sovereignty.

Psalm 95: 1-2, 6-9

R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Today’s responsorial psalm comes from Psalm 95, which regularly opens the Liturgy of the Hours, the Church’s official prayer. It combines an invitation to praise, a plea for openness, and a word from God.

Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD;

The invitation to praise God will be presented three times, in varying formats. Together they seem to be a reenactment of a liturgical movement.

“Let us sing joyfully to the LORD” is the initial summons.

let us acclaim the rock of our salvation.

The relationship that exists between God and the people is characterized by means of several metaphors, the first of which is God as the “rock of their salvation.” A rock is solid and secure. It affords grounding for whatever relies on it. Natural formations of rock also provide refuge and shelter from inclement weather and various dangers. It is an apt image to refer to God as the protector of the people.

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us joyfully sing psalms to him.

The second invitation to praise is an invitation to enter the presence of God, which is presumably the temple. The repeated invitation to come might indicate that this was a pilgrimage psalm, although its main theme, contemplation of God as King, can apply to any situation.

Come, let us bow down in worship;

The third invitation to praise is to bow down in worship of the LORD.

let us kneel before the LORD who made us.

In addition to being the “rock of salvation,” God is also clearly identified as Creator. This can be a reference to God as the Creator of the universe and everything within it, or it can be a more personal reference to the fashioning of a disparate group of individuals into a coherent community. The image that follows suggests the latter interpretation.

For he is our God, and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.

The psalmist identifies the community as the flock and God as the shepherd. In a pastoral community, such a relationship was quite intimate. Shepherds took total responsibility for their sheep, caring for them and protecting them even at the risk of their own lives. For reasons such as this, “shepherd” became a fitting metaphor to describe the monarch, who was expected to act in this same way on behalf of the people of the realm.

In this psalm, the images of rock and shepherd illustrate the people’s perception of God as protector.

Oh, that today you would hear his voice:

Having depicted God as a caring and devoted protector, the psalmist turns again to the people and issues a serious plea that they be open to the voice of God.

This plea suggests that “today” the people who have been gathered together will hear God’s voice. Since this gathering is clearly liturgical in character, it is safe to conclude that the word from God will be a part of the actual liturgical celebration. The people have come to worship God and to receive some word from God that will comfort them or set a direction for their lives.

“Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the desert,
Where your fathers tempted me; they tested me though they had seen my works.”

God addresses the reverent community, warning the people to avoid repeating the rebellion of their ancestors in the wilderness (Exodus 17:1-7, Deuteronomy 6:16).

Tempting God or putting him to the test means testing his goodness and fidelity by forcing him to act, as if his previous deeds weren’t enough proof of his love for us. The previous generation did this by demanding signs that would prove the presence and power of God acting on their behalf, despite the fact that they had witnessed God’s gracious deliverance of them from Egyptian bondage.

God desires hearts that are open, not hearts that have been hardened by selfishness or lack of faith. “Today” the descendants of those rebellious wanderers are called upon to respond with open faith and willing obedience.

Gospel – Luke 11:14-23

Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute,
and when the demon had gone out,
the mute man spoke and the crowds were amazed.
Some of them said, “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons,
he drives out demons.”
Others, to test him, asked him for a sign from heaven.
But he knew their thoughts and said to them,
“Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste
and house will fall against house.
And if Satan is divided against himself, 
how will his kingdom stand?
For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons.
If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul,
by whom do your own people drive them out?
Therefore they will be your judges.
But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons,
then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.
When a strong man fully armed guards his palace,
his possessions are safe.
But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him,
he takes away the armor on which he relied
and distributes the spoils.
Whoever is not with me is against me,
and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus’ enemies remain obstinant in the face of a miracle that amazes.

Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute, and when the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke and the crowds were amazed.

Jesus uses miraculous deeds to prove his divine mission. This particular miracle shows his power over Satan.

Some of them said, “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he drives out demons.” Others, to test him, asked him for a sign from heaven.

Since his enemies cannot deny that Jesus has done something quite extraordinary, they attribute it to the power of the devil rather than admit that Jesus is the Messiah.

But he knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house. And if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons.

Jesus points out the senselessness of the claim. His ministry has included driving demons out of people and exhort them to turn away from sin. Why would Satan lend power to someone who is actively undermining his evil intentions?

If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own people drive them out?

In addition to pointing out the absurdity of the charge, Jesus asks how the work of Jewish exorcists (“your own people”) is to be interpreted. Are they, too, to be charged with collusion with Beelzebul?

Therefore they will be your judges.

The other Jewish exorcists (see Acts 19:13–20), who recognize the power of God in their exorcisms, would themselves convict the accusers of Jesus.

But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.

The fact Jesus expels demons shows that he has inaugurated the Kingdom of God on earth.

When a strong man fully armed guards his palace, his possessions are safe.

The “strong man fully armed” is Satan; his possession is manking, whom he has enslaved.

But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him, he takes away the armor on which he relied and distributes the spoils.

The “one stronger” is Jesus (see Luke 3:16, where John the Baptist identifies Jesus as “mightier than I”). Jesus has arrived on earth and has conquered Satan and is despoiling him.

Saint Paul will later say that Christ “disarmed the principalities and power and made a public example of them, triumphing over them” (Colossians 2:15).

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”

Jesus now addresses mankind at large. In light of this victory of his over Satan, no one can adopt an attitude of neutrality towards him: whoever is not with him is against him.

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