“Oh, that today you would hear his voice” (Ps. 95:7).
“Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today”: this aphorism is attributed to Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, who was fond of sayings like this. Some of this folk wisdom he put into Poor Richard’s Almanack, like “You may delay, but time will not, and lost time is never found again”: a variant on the theme with a warning for procrastinators. Personally I like the later and much funnier saying of Mark Twain, “Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well”. Procrastinators take heart! Twain is conjuring up for us the idea that things might need to be prioritized. Think here, “First things first” or even “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. Some things might just have to wait.
Our psalm today, however, suggests that some things won’t wait, or rather that they can’t wait, and we shouldn’t wait on them. “Oh, that today you would hear his voice” (Ps. 95:7b), the Psalmist says, inviting us to prick up our ears and listen to what God has to say to us. The voice is the voice of the shepherd: “we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand” (Ps. 95:7a), as it says in our psalm. Now is the moment to respond to the voice, the point of departure that will lead us in the right path. On one level that moment cannot be deferred but has to be grasped now.
Notice how the Psalmist looks back into the past at the same time he calls for action now. “Harden not your hearts, as your forebears did in the wilderness, * at Meribah, and on that day at Massah, when they tempted me” (Ps. 95:8). The setting is the same one we find in our first reading, the journey of Israel out of Egypt into the wilderness. They’re on their way to Mount Sinai to meet with YHWH, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, led by Moses the man of God. Our Psalm reminds the People that their ancestors were disobedient on the way. The place names, “Meribah” and “Massah”, testify against them: “Meribah” means “quarrel” and “Massah” means “testing”.
The People of God quarreled with Moses and they tested God. They did not believe that God could sustain them: “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Ex. 17:7), they asked. They knew how God had delivered them from Egypt, but still they asked. They blamed Moses for bringing them out of Egypt only to kill them with thirst. They did not listen to the voice of the Shepherd; they did not believe that they were the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand (as it says in the psalm). Yet in spite of themselves God gave them water from the rock; Moses struck it with his rod and water gushed out.
The Psalmist looks back in time, at what has taken place in the past, and tells his listeners that now is the moment for them to respond to God, the “today” that God has given them as he gave it to their ancestors. “Oh, that today you would hear his voice” (Ps. 95:7b). There’s urgency here; no procrastination is possible. Not for them and not for us. The Psalmist isn’t just speaking to the people of his day, of course. He’s speaking to us as well.
We’re on our own journey, of course: the journey of Lent and the journey of life. It’s the third Sunday in Lent, so there are three more to go; and there’s no telling where each of us is on that other journey we’re taking. “Oh, that today you would hear his voice” (Ps. 95:7b). There’s urgency here, for us to sit up and listen to what God is saying to us. “Harden not your hearts” (Ps. 95:8), it says; do not look for quarrels with anyone and do not put God to the test. Whether we quarrel or not, God is with us on every step of the journey; if we test him he will be true. God has sent his Son Jesus to walk with us on this journey every step of the way.
Though now is the time for us to listen to the voice of the Shepherd, the “today” in which God calls us to respond is always right in front of us. The Third Sunday in Lent or the Fourth Sunday; this Tuesday or the following Tuesday; last year or this year or twenty years from now. As St. Paul says in Second Corinthians, “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor. 6:2). Those who are re-affirming their baptismal vows today know this, and we should too, as we remember and reaffirm our own commitment to Christ. Now is the time for us to listen to the voice and to move forward in faith. Today is the day.
- The Rt. Rev'd John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee