"While never willing to bow to a tyrant, our forefathers were always willing to get to their knees before God. When catastrophe threatened, they turned to God for deliverance. When the harvest was bountiful the first thought was thanksgiving to God." - Ronald Reagan National Day of Prayer, 1981
(Jer 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.
“I’d rather not face it.” “He can’t even look me in the eye.” “I’d prefer to have a face-to-face meeting.”
We have many expressions that convey a similar truth: human communication, human relationship flourishes when we see one another’s faces. The face itself communicates. A little child who has done something wrong doesn’t want to look at Mom or Dad. To turn away one’s face is to withdraw from a relationship, to impede communication. We convey a difficult decision to someone via email, because we’d rather not do it face-to-face.
This powerful image is used by the prophet Jeremiah to describe the infidelity of Israel : “They walked in the hardness of their evil hearts and turned their backs, not their faces, to me.” To turn one’s back on someone involves a decision, a choice to leave a relationship and pursue another path, to move out on one’s own. And, in our relationship with God, the image provides another view of what we call “sin.”
What causes us to turn our backs, not our faces, to God? Sometimes we mistakenly presume we’ll be more free in moving out on our own. Sometimes we carry a hurt that we believe God will not be capable of healing. Sometimes we believe it is easier to pretend that God does not have a face, that God is “out there,” distant, disinterested.
Jesus provides for us the face of God. Jesus provides the healing of the lie of God’s supposed disinterest in us and the rest of the world. “To have seen me is to have seen the Father,” Jesus reminds us disciples in the Gospel of John. Jesus is the place where we can find healing in our hurt: “Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome and I will refresh you.” And Jesus tells us that living in him, the Truth, will truly make us free.
The Word of God probes our hearts today: where have I turned from the face of God? Where have I decided to strike out on my own? Where have I believed the lie of God’s disinterest in me?
Today the grace of Lent calls to us: Lord, let us see your face and we shall be saved!