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Spirituality of the Readings
4th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Year B
January 31, 2021
John Foley, SJ

  “If today you hear God's voice, harden not your hearts.” Words from the Psalm for Sunday.

As a composer, I can understand some of the devices I might use to make a musical setting of this Psalm. But when I hear them I don't really concentrate on any one or the other word. I am taken away by their meaning.

God and Jesus become stern for our good, not because they are destroyers.

Sunday's Readings give a similar command. We are told to hear with our hearts the word of God, not to get sidetracked.

By what?

The First Reading offers an answer. Moses quotes God’s words:

I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin,
and will put my words into his mouth.

Moses has acted as intermediary between God and the people, and now they are promised another mediator between them and the God they fear.


Yes. If you have a bible handy, look at people’s reaction to God's gift of the ten commandments (or just click this link: Exodus 19:16). There the Lord descended upon Mount Sinai in great fire and thunder and the blare of trumpets! The people understandably became afraid and trembled and stood far off.

  “Don't make us listen to that voice again, or see that great fire again, because we might die from it.”

In today’s First Reading, Moses reminds them of this reaction. Fear had frightened the people away from God. They did not even hear the word of God because dread had deadened their hearts.

Do we ever find God too large and threatening for our small selves? Do we ever want to ignore such a voice, especially when it is speaking commandments that go against what we find much easier?

Television and so many movies depict the joys of sins that make them part of the landscape and hard to resist! We can be lured. Maybe we take the name of the Lord our God in vain. Or miss Mass on Sunday. Or—you know the rest—dishonor our parents or desire to commit adultery, or steal or lie, or lust after already committed wives or husbands in spite of their relationships—or ours. Isn’t such behavior common in today’s world?

But God’s voice is a lure also, especially as it evokes the psalm setting, as in the Second Reading. We are to be wrapped in the luxury of God’s words, to bask in the beauty of a love that only wants our own good. St Paul says “I should like you to be free of anxieties.”

So, would we have been afraid of Jesus as well? In the Gospel, we find him teaching “as one having authority.” I suppose the answer, then, is yes. He drove a devil out of the man in the synagogue, who, notice, was violently afraid, no joke about it. Jesus gave a command and “the unclean spirit convulsed [the man] and with a loud cry came out of him.”

Notice: God and Jesus become stern for our good, not because they are destroyers. Destruction is what they are trying to get us to leave behind.

We sing joyfully to the Lord, the psalm says.

All rebukes from the Lord are for our own good. If today we hear God’s voice and listen to it and don’t harden our hearts out of fear, maybe we will find this out.

John Foley, SJ

Father Foley can be reached at:
Fr. John Foley, SJ

Fr. John Foley, SJ, is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.

Art by Martin (Steve) Erspamer, OSB
from Religious Clip Art for the Liturgical Year (A, B, and C). This art may be reproduced only by parishes who purchase the collection in book or CD-ROM form. For more information go