When I was teaching in Knoxville, we had a diocesan in-service for teachers reflecting on the three times that God breaks the silence in the New Testament. One of those times is at the Baptism of the Lord, which we celebrated yesterday. Hearing this Gospel reading reminded me of that day so many years ago.
During his presentation, the retreat master, Archabbot Lambert Reilly, OSB (who served as the leader of St. Meinrad Seminary from 1994-2004) said that God broke the silence in the New Testament three times. But he arrived late for his presentation and never got to the third occasion in Scripture where the voice of God is heard. Intrigued, I called the seminary, tracked down the Archabbot, and asked him to tell me about the third time. It was the start of a long friendship and I still have my notes from that conversation. For years, I have used yesterday’s readings as the jumping off point for a quiz I gave students – challenging them to find the three times in Scripture when God breaks the silence.
I will spare you the work.
The first, as I mentioned, is the baptism of our Lord (Matthew 3:13-17) in which not only the Trinity is revealed but also Jesus begins his public ministry to proclaim and make present the reign of God on earth. The Father’s voice in this passage speaks in terms that reflect Is 42:1, Ps 2:7 and Gn 22:2. This God-in-the-flesh is giving us first hand an example of submission to the saving activity of God. “To fulfill all righteousness” is to submit to the plan of God for the salvation of the human race. This involves Jesus’ identification with sinners; hence the propriety of his accepting John’s baptism.
The second time God breaks the silence comes at the Transfiguration (Mk 9:2-8, Lk 9:28-36, Mt 17:1-8) which confirms that Jesus is the Son of God (Mt 17:5) and points to fulfillment of the prediction that he will come “in his Father’s glory” (Mt. 16:27) at the end of the age. The voice that speaks repeats the baptismal proclamation about Jesus, with the addition of the command “listen to him.” The latter is a reference to Dt 18:15 in which the Israelites are commanded to “listen to” the prophets like Moses whom God will raise up for them. The command to “listen to” Jesus is general, but we know that just as Jesus shined white as light in this event, it is only by the light of his resurrection can we truly come to understand the meaning of his life and mission. His own instruction to the apostles to not reveal the details of this extraordinary event to anyone indicates that Jesus knows that until the resurrection, no testimony of this vision will lead people to faith.
The elusive third time that God breaks the silence is in John 12:20-36 as Jesus discusses his own death. He says that “whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be” (Jn 12:26). He continues and after admitting that he is troubled about the future and what he knows it holds for him, asks “what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name” (Jn 12:27). In other words, Jesus is saying that even though he is afraid, he also knows that it was for this purpose – to die for each of us – that he was born. In response to his request for his Father to glorify his name, a voice speaks: “I have glorified it and I will glorify it again” (28). The crowds who hear the voice say it was thunder, others say it was an angel. Jesus says the voice is heard so that we may believe that he himself is the light by which we all must live so as to become children of the light (36). We know that Jesus will have – after his suffering – all that he had before and that those who follow him will have what he has promised, namely, eternal life with the Father in heaven.
God becomes man so that we might follow Jesus’ example in our love for each other. Jesus dined with sinners and made the lame walk. He was crucified for our sakes and is made whole again through his resurrection. Those who follow will rise above all darkness that comes from doubt and sin and live only in the light. A light that is God.
It is easy to forget the God still breaks the silence. We struggle to find both God’s voice and the silence. This week, take some time in the stillness of the morning or just before the lights go out to sit in the silence and listen for the voice of God.
May God be pleased with the work of our lives.