Often when he teaches, Jesus says that those with ears should "listen." That seems to cover just about everybody.
The crowds that had gathered were so vast that Jesus got into a boat and addressed the people as they stood on the beach.
He told them many parables, such as: “A farmer went out to sow, and as he went along, some seeds fell on the path, and birds came and ate them.
“Other seeds fell on rocky ground without much soil; these sprang up right away but, when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.
“Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.
“Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
“Let those who can hear, listen!”
Jesus said, “Let those who can hear, listen!”
It’s rather a lost art in contemporary society. Oh, plenty of words are spoken and lots of ears hear — but listening is rare. We live in a world of presumptions and prejudices, certain that we are … well, that we’re right. We’ve made our decisions and, by gosh, we’re going to stand by them!
Well, there’s a unique concept: actually listening to what someone is saying.
So, what we do, generally, is talk at one another. When someone else is speaking, we’re waiting to state our opinion — vigilant for any hint that their views may diverge with our own and, if they do, mentally compiling that person’s sins and shortcomings, and closing our ears to what is being said.
“Well!” we think to ourselves, “He belongs to that group — I know what those people think. And that is just plain wrong. I won’t listen to rubbish like that.”
And so we don’t.
On the other hand, if someone’s viewpoint aligns with our own, well, it’s like Old Home Week: we nod and smile and make encouraging noises. But we don’t really pay attention to what that person says, either. If it is what we think, then it must be right, through and through: no flawed reasoning or mistaken information or falsehoods, no room for improvement, no other reasonable possibilities. Why bother to listen?
And so we dwell in our isolated pods: left, right, conservative, liberal, coastal, heartland, Democrat, Republican, Apple, HP, Firefox, Safari… confining ourselves within continually shrinking communities, with narrower and narrower parameters. Like the speakeasies during Prohibition: you have to know the right word in order to gain entrance into our cozy private lairs.
And like the patrons of those old time “gin joints” we can end up in a confused stupor — or poisoned — by a substance that is very different from what we thought it was. Assumptions are dangerous, and may be deadly. Thinking, asking questions, listening — to what is said and to what is unsaid — are essential.
To what — and to whom — are we pledging our (unthinking) loyalty?
Isolated from those “others,” we pay no attention to their concerns nor do we trouble ourselves with their problems; we become deaf to their cries. Comfortably ensconced within our own warm circles, we can become rigid, unyielding, smug, self-satisfied, hard-hearted. Vicious.
Theologian Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg interprets Pharaoh’s “hardness of heart” toward the Israelites as a failure to listen; he hears what Moses says, but refuses to pay attention. Convinced that he already knows what’s right, Pharaoh remains unmoved and unyielding. He’s made his mind up, and by gosh, nothing will change his thinking..… until his world crumbles — yet even then Pharaoh does not admit to his mistakes, but rigidly (and disastrously) tries to prove that he is “in the right.”
How much damage do we inflict by an insistence on being “right,” — when we close our ears to alternate viewpoints, to different concerns, to troubles and challenges and experiences of people and communities unlike “our own”? What messages may we be ignoring?
Jesus said, “Let those who can hear, listen!”
In many churches the reading of the Gospel is preceded by the statement: “Hear the word of the Lord.” How often do we truly hear it? How often do we consider what the words mean, and especially what they mean to us — personally and particularly: right now, where we are and who we are?
If we do not listen to God speaking to us — through the Scriptures, in prayer and meditation, and in the voices of the souls that fill our world — we are like the seeds in the parable that fall on thin, rocky soil; having no depth, no connection to the living water. We will not learn and change and grow; stiffly self-satisfied, dry and rigid, we will wither and waste away.
When we listen and understand, we will take the Word into our hearts, and allow it to infuse us with compassion and concern for “our neighbors” — all of our neighbors, not just the ones who think like we do. And we, in turn, will thrive and blossom in the Light and bring forth blessings, perhaps a hundredfold.
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,