Homily – March 24th, 2012
VOICE FROM HEAVEN
Jesus speaks to a crowd: “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I
say—“Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I
have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came
from heaven. “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd
standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An
Angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for
your sake, not for mine” (John 12:27-31).
The voice from heaven surprises us who listen to scripture with twentyfirst
century ears. Although such a voice has appeared in earlier
scripture, we do not hear of such a voice, except in Biblical reading.
Several times in inspired writing, this voice has been recorded. It shocks
us, for in such speaking we hear God’s self-revelation.
We might initially ask: Who has heard this voice? Jesus has heard the
voice, for Jesus says, “This voice has come for your sake.” Thus Jesus
affirms that the voice has actually spoken, and it has been audible. The
voice was not a mere sound such as might occur when a rock rolls down
from some height, or, when a tree limb snaps in the wind and breaks
from the trunk.
Also, the voice speaks intelligibly and purposefully. The voice makes
perfect sense, for the voice replies to the idea of glorifying the name of
God. The voice repeats the clue word, “glorifies,” and the voice
reiterates that the speaker, God, has glorified His own name in the deeds
of Jesus, and that the same speaker will further glorify that same name.
To glorify is to honor and exalt, to praise and make excellent in others’
eyes. To glorify the name is to exalt the person, to bring humans to
realize the outstanding being of God. In the first of the Eucharistic
prayers, we implore that people may offer a pure sacrifice “to your
name,” that is a religious mode of speaking of God (Cf. Eucharistic
Prayer III, “You are indeed Holy…).
Besides Jesus, at least two groups of people in this crowd have heard the
voice. For a part of the crowd, thunder has reverberated across the sky. It
was only the booming sound of rapidly expanding air following a
lightning discharge. But another part of that crowd heard the voice and
attributed another source, for these people said, “An angel has spoken to
[Jesus].” Our Lord says that the voice has spoken for the sake of the
crowd, so that the crowd might realize that Jesus is the Son of God.
“This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.”
In the gospels, we several times witness Jesus hearing this voice from
heaven, this self-revelation of the triune God.
And when Jesus had been baptized, just as He came up from the
water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and He saw the
Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on Him. And a
voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom
I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17).
Three evangelists report this heavenly voice as Jesus is baptized by John
the Baptist at the river Jordan. God empowers Jesus to carry out God’s
purpose. Something new in the world transpires, for God reveals
Himself, actually employs a human voice with intelligible words. More
than an authorization of scripture, the Trinity communicates with
listeners. The Jordan River did not cease to flow, nor did water lose its
liquidity, nor did daylight end at the instant, but our Creator addresses
the living in a mode apt for humans.
On another occasion, when Jesus takes Peter, James, and John, they
climb a high mountain, and these apostles witness Jesus transfigured
before them so that a dazzling light emanates from Him, and His clothes
shine more white than any fuller might imagine clothes to be. With Jesus
are Moses and Elijah, the law-giver and the prophet.
Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a
voice, This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (Mark 9:2-8).
In later years, Peter writes of this incident.
“[Jesus] received honor and glory from God the Father when that
voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory saying, “This is
my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We
ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with
Him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:16-18).
Thus we hear the voice from heaven at least three times in the gospel.
These recordings have the authority of Jesus Himself, of John the
Baptist, of the crowd, of St. Peter.
In a later incident, we again hear a voice from heaven at the change of
Saul to the Apostle Paul.
Now as [Saul] was going along and approaching Damascus,
suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the
ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you
persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came,
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the
city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were
traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice
but saw no one (Acts of Apostles 9:3-7).
Three times the Acts of the Apostles (22:9; 26:14) recounts Paul’s
experience, and in each account Paul hears a voice from heaven.
I pray that I may be alert, be ready to hear the voice of God speak to me
as He spoke to Jesus and to those in the crowd listening. May I not
confuse thunder for God addressing me as He addressed Paul. Amen.