B Cycle – 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time 20
She had been coming to me for Spiritual Direction for less than a year when she asked me how anyone can be certain God is speaking to them. It is a good question and one that is not easy to answer because she wanted certainty. Questions like this one do not get asked because one is curious. She has begun to feel the presence of God when she prays and has begun to feel the promptings of the Spirit animating her prayer. She is also beginning to realize a small still voice speaking to her and moving her to respond. We had for the past few months been praying the psalms, moving from joy to despair, wonder and awe to wondering if God is listening.
During all of this she has begun to feel the prompting of God directing her to use her gifts to help others find the God she has begun to realize is calling her to respond by going where she is not certain of the outcome. She knows it is God but how can we respond to such personal and subtle promptings when the outcome seems impossible. Such promptings from God challenges us to trust and to believe in his promises. At the heart of it all is believing God will be with us and beside us and will provide all we need to achieve what he is asking of us.
The call of the disciples today is a good example of her dilemma and why she wants to know if it is God speaking to her. Simon, Andrew, James, and John seem not to have any issue with the call to leave behind everything they knew to follow Jesus. Was it really that easy for them? The scriptures never did reveal to us any of their questions. Questions, one might ask after being invited to become “fishers of men” might be how long will we be gone, how much does becoming fishers of men pay? Or even, why us, and who are you anyway. I know fishing will never make me rich but at least I know what I am doing, how do you fish for men anyway.
If you think about last week’s gospel, we have some clues as to why they responded so quickly. Andrew went to Jesus and spent the day with him, listening to him. Andrew’s encounter with Jesus that day touched his core, and he proclaims Jesus was the Messiah and runs to get his brother to come and see. This is where all of us need to begin our journey of discerning if what we are hearing is from God or not, by spending time with Jesus. We need to follow the example of Jesus who went to the temple daily and we can easily assume he daily joined in the prayers, listened to the reading from the scroll, sang the psalms and prayed the prayers of benediction.
He also went off by himself and prayed intimately speaking to his father. It is in those actions of Jesus that united his heart, mind, and soul with the father. It is by us developing an intimate prayer life with Jesus which will aid us in discerning the voice we are hearing. The truth is we do not know if it was an easy decision for those four disciples to leave everything behind.
But since they were human and had not yet received the revelation of the Spirit, we can safely assume it was not easy. Yet they responded. How many other times during their time with Jesus were they just as challenged to trust when their hearts told them what he was asking was impossible?
Peter, get out of the boat and walk to me on the water. The people are hungry, feed them yourselves. Lord, they responded we have nothing. But they gave Jesus what little they had and fed thousands. Jesus challenged what they believed. He touched the lepers, dined with sinners, healed on the Sabbath, said he would rise from the dead. Yet they remained and continued to be uncertain until Pentecost.
The real challenge for us is to recognize the barrier of sin which separates us from God has been removed by the death of Jesus. This allows us to grow in intimacy with God and through that intimacy we will recognize his voice. For Jesus told us, “My sheep know my voice and they follow me.” Knowing Jesus lies at the heart of discernment.
The simple answer to her “how can we be certain we are hearing God’s voice” is because a person who is loved knows the voice of their lover. Knowing is the fruit of intimacy. That kind of relationship with God is developed during our private personal prayer where we talk to him and he talks to us. What we hear is often confirmed by the scriptures, by circumstantial signs, and through seeking the council from people we know have a personal relationship with God.
Through all of these things we will know for certain what we hear is the voice of God calling us. Then we like Simon, Andrew, James and John can leave behind what we once believed was important for us and begin to follow Jesus.