Auxiliary Bishop Sylvester David offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Friday 18 September 2020, during this time of the coronavirus pandemic. It is also available on the Archdiocese of Cape Town’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. Please also see below the text of his reflection, primarily for the deaf.
Reflection for 18 September 2020
An aspect of the liturgy of the word is done silently by the ordained minister reading the Gospel. Those who are not familiar with the Church’s liturgical practice may not realise what is said albeit quietly: “Through the words of the Gospel may our sins be wiped away”. In a recent reflection (two weeks ago) I pointed out that Christ is present in the proclamation – and wherever Christ is, there is the forgiveness of sins. Still, can the mere words of the Gospel bring about the wiping away of sin without any action on my part? Well, listening is not passive. Listening attentively is in fact quite active and quite deliberate and that action of receiving the word with well prepared hearts brings blessings. Remember the teaching of Jesus when he spoke the parable of the sower in Mark 4. The seed that fell into good soil produced much fruit.
Perhaps some biblical background will be helpful. When God speaks the word for “speak” in the Hebrew bible it is always a strong verb. Hebrew verbs show the quality and strength of the action being described. God’s word is always deliberate and always intentional and one of these intentions is that we be converted. Read Ezekiel 18:23 for example. The letter to the Hebrews tells us that God’s word is a two edged sword, living and active (Hebrews 4:12) and Isaiah 55:10-11 tells us that the word will not return to God until its purpose is accomplished.
There is a strong thread in the Bible that shows the power of God’s word but I want to focus on the “wiping away” of sins. This notion comes from the Old Testament. A prime example is Isaiah 25:6-9, which is recommended for funeral liturgies. This reading tells us that God will wipe away our tears. Hebrew words are like a story and need to be unpacked. The word translated “wipe” means more than merely clearing a chalkboard with a duster. It means to remove the stain in such a way that there will be no more evidence that it was there in the first place. It also has another deeper meaning and here we need an analogy from family life to illustrate the point. Suppose a child is scolded and embarrassed and starts to cry. Perhaps s/he was not at fault, was scolded and now feels hurt. After a few minutes the tears subside and the child runs around again. A few minutes later the child lets out a deep sigh – the emotional pain is now gone. That’s how God deals with us when we are hurt. The context of this passage from Isaiah is important. It starts with “On this mountain…” On which mountain? A study of the passage shows that it was the mountain where they suffered severe pain and degradation. The point is that in the very theatre of their misery, God acted to take away their shame and their pain. Yes indeed, the theatre of our misery e.g. the pandemic, an unhappy home or family, an unhappy marriage, a poor work context, the neighbourhood, etc. can actually become the theatre of our redemption – for nothing is impossible to God (Luke 1:37).
Let us pray: Father through the words of the Gospel may our sins be wiped away. Help us to receive your word as gift each day. We make our prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen.[Blessing].
Bishop Sylvester David OMI
VG: Archdiocese of Cape Town