Listen, then, if you have ears.
[A crowd has gathered to hear what Jesus has to say about John the Baptist, who has been arrested by King Herod.]
Jesus repeats this phrase several times throughout the Gospels – “Listen if you have ears.” OK, he knows we all have ears, right? At least most of us do. I’m sure Jesus is just like everyone else – when he talks to someone he appreciates being heard. And like most super smart people with revolutionary ideas, he’s probably used to getting blank stares. Or that deer in the headlights look. As in what the heck is he talking about….
Jesus wants people to listen not only with their ears, but with their brains. He wants them to make an effort to understand what he’s saying. The Bible is full of examples where people don’t want to listen to what God is saying, either because they are unwilling or because they are just plain lazy.
Listening is not a passive activity. We have to choose to listen. Psalm 58 expresses an unfavorable view of people who choose to close their minds and ears:
Evildoers go wrong all their lives; they tell lies from the day they are born. They are full of poison like snakes; they stop up their ears like a deaf cobra, which does not hear the voice of the snake charmer, or the chant of the clever magician (Psalm 58:3-5).
Listening to God’s word through the Law of Moses is more important than the pagan-based sacrificial offerings that Jesus and the prophets warned against.
You do not want sacrifices and offerings; you do not ask for animals burned whole on the altar or for sacrifices to take away sins. Instead, you have given me ears to hear you, and so I answered, “Here I am; your instructions for me are in the book of the Law (Psalm 40:6-7).
In Zechariah 7:8-13, the God says that we need to listen with both our ears and our hearts.
The Lord gave this message to Zechariah: “Long ago I gave these commands to my people: ‘You must see that justice is done, and must show kindness and mercy to one another. Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners who live among you, or anyone else in need. And do not plan ways of harming one another.’
“But my people stubbornly refused to listen. They closed their minds and made their hearts as hard as rock. Because they would not listen to the teaching which I sent through the prophets who lived long ago, I became very angry. Because they did not listen when I spoke, I did not answer when they prayed.”
The following excerpts from Psalm 119 reinforce the idea that it takes effort to understand God’s will. It’s not just a matter of memorizing a bunch of rules. Obedience to God requires understanding with both the mind and the heart. It involves intentionality and active engagement:
I praise you, O Lord; teach me your ways. I will repeat aloud all the laws you have given. I study your instructions; I examine your teachings. Open my eyes, so that I may see the wonderful truths in your law. My heart aches with longing; I want to know your judgments at all times. Your instructions give me pleasure; they are my advisers. Help me to understand your laws, and I will meditate on your wonderful teachings. I have chosen to be obedient; I have paid attention to your judgments. Teach me, Lord, the meaning of your laws, and I will obey them at all times. Explain your law to me, and I will obey it; I will keep it with all my heart. Keep me from paying attention to what is worthless; be good to me, as you have promised.
Jesus doesn’t want what he is saying to go in one ear and out the other. Jesus challenges his followers to heed the call of the prophets and dive into a deep relationship with God. Jesus wants to elevate religious life from the mindless activity of dragging livestock to a sacrificial altar to engagement with God through prayer and study and discernment. Jesus wants everyone to listen to him with their ears, and listen to God with their hearts. He wants all of us to have a true, authentic, lively, dynamic relationship with God.
Even today many people want to have a religious life that releases them from having to do anything for themselves. They are constantly looking around for someone to tell them what to do, and then they get mad or confused when they hear various people saying different things. They don’t want to think for themselves. They don’t want to work at having the kind of relationship with God that Jesus wants them to have. They don’t want to listen to the voice of God.
Jesus wants people to hear and see and understand. He wants them to think. He wants them to be civilized. He wants them to be reasoned. He wants them to be open to what God wants at any given time and place.
So Jesus says we all have ears and we need to use them. We also have minds and hearts, and both need to be engaged in our relationship with both Jesus and God. Through doing this blog I’m finding that the words of Jesus are loaded with meaning and truth and deserve to be studied. I have ears and I’m trying to listen, but it’s hard to keep up with someone as wise and brilliant as Jesus. It requires full engagement and lots of meditation.
We all need to make room in our lives for a moment of quiet time now and then so we can listen to what God has to say. The way I look at it, God is continuously speaking to all of us. He’s like a radio station that never stops broadcasting. We are all like little radios. All we have to do is set our dials to the right station and we can tune into the God channel. It’s nonstop talk radio. All you have to do is turn on and tune in. And pay attention to what’s being said. So listen, then, if you have ears.
What does this scripture say to you?