Frequently in the Gospels, we see Jesus withdrawing from a crowd to be alone with God. Early in his public ministry, he is clearly in a position to become famous: “all spoke well of him” (Luke 4:22); “they were astounded at his teaching” (4:32); “All in the crowd were trying to touch him.” (6:19) Yet Jesus eschews the temptation to ride the favor of the crowds, perhaps already sensing that demagogues could easily turn them against him. Instead, he turns to prayer in order to attune himself to the voice of the Father.
Jesus’ discernment is much like that of Elijah in the First Book of Kings:
Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. (19:11–13)
Unlike many who seek God in vast earth-shattering acts (what insurers like to call, infelicitously, “acts of God”), Elijah knows that the Lord is to be found in whispers.
Both Jesus and Elijah carefully discern God’s voice after a time away in the wilderness. They learn to screen out the noise of the world in order to attune themselves to God’s presence in the silence. The fruit of their discernment—of attuning themselves to the silent voice of God—is a distaste for praise, honor, and the demands of the majority. Their attitude is like that of Jeremiah, who can cry out that the Lord’s word is “like a burning fire / shut up in my bones” (Jeremiah 20:9) All of them—Elijah, Jeremiah, and Jesus—accept that attunement to the voice of God is both difficult and costly, even as it is irresistible. It pulls them away from the crowds and into direct encounter with the Divine.
Our prayer today is to become ever more attracted to God in silence, to turn away from the noise of the world—especially as mediated through our screens. Let us find time to withdraw and to listen, even if family demands or the summons of those we serve make such moments fleeting and rare. “Seek the LORD while he may be found, / call upon him while he is near.” (Isaiah 55:6)
Image: Elijah and the Raven Bringing Food by Julia Raketic/Shutterstock.com.