Sometimes, when we’ve heard something often enough, we cease to ponder the meaning of the words. I know it happens to me with prayers, when I’m not mindful. It happens with Scripture when we presume we’ve understood everything that could be unpacked from a given passage. However, Scripture is divinely inspired, and the Holy Spirit is always calling to our souls through it.
One exercise I learned to help me dive deeper into a given passage was to place my own name in the Scriptures, so that when Jesus spoke to a person, the person named was me. A second way to get at what is said, was to inverse the Scripture. This technique works especially well when I get enamored of the poetry sometimes found in the words of the Old or New Testament.
To illustrate what I mean, I’ll use Saint Paul’s 1st Corinthians, the passage used at most weddings:
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
It’s not just a beautiful passage; it’s a prescription, for anyone who hears it, on how to love as Christ loves. However, we’ve heard it so many times, we may no longer really hear what it instructs us to do. Now, rework those words to their opposite:
Hate is impatient; Hate is cruel; hate is envious and boastful, arrogant and rude. Hate insists on its own way; it is irritable and resentful; it rejoices in wrongdoing, and rejoices in lies. It bears nothing, believes nothing, despairs of all things and will suffer nothing.
It’s a lot easier to see how one is not loving when we look through the “mirror-mirror” universe. It’s unsettling to discover all the ways in which we fall short of what we are all called to do: to love. It’s dangerous to probe one’s own soul through Scripture, because we will always find both that God loves us, and that we in some way, fight against loving God and our neighbor. It’s just not always easy to hear, or to let ourselves hear. It isn’t that the words have lost their poetry or power, it’s that sometimes the words glide over the brain because they’ve become too familiar, and need to be reheard with new ears.
Looking at the Gospel, where Jesus speaks directly to each of us, have we grown used to Jesus such that we think we know Him? We all know the person of Jesus is kind, loving, generous, the way, the truth and the light. He also shocks. When we grow used to the Gospel, we fail to hear how Jesus always engaged every person He encountered in a way which unsettled. If we’re not there to be challenged by Jesus, we’re just there for the insurance against our own folly, we’re just here for the miracles and the free food. “Nice talk, Jesus. Pass the loaves and fishes please. Throw more manna my way.”
There were many back in the time of Jesus who came to hear and see the miracles, but when they really heard his words, “Unless you eat of my flesh and drink of my blood, you have no life within you,” they left. Having seen the miracle of the feeding of five thousand, they still said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.
It’s dangerous to really listen, because Jesus always calls us to more than we thought, more than we thought we needed to give. Jesus always calls us into deeper relationship with the whole Trinity. Jesus always wants to impress into our hearts more of the meaning of these words he says in the Gospel.
If we approach the Gospel as always revealing more of the infinite Mystery of a God who loves of all creatures, each of us, it must unsettle. It will call us to more. It will call us to be lights to the world, but the one thing it won’t do, is let us stay as we are. We will not be able to go back to our former ways of life if we wish to follow Him. It’s an unsettling thing to listen to Jesus, and if you do, you will never be the same, but you will be more who God calls you to be.