“Whoever has ears ought to hear” (Matt 13:9).
That statement from Jesus, in slightly varied forms, appears 10 times in the New Testament. How true and necessary those words are in our world today as well! Our spouse, our child, our friend or colleague speaks to us. We hear their voices. Then they ask, “What do you think?” or “Is that okay?” and we realize (or not) that we heard words but did not focus on the point they were attempting to relay.
Therein lies the problem – 2,000 years ago and today. In our modern world, we claim busyness and distractions as our excuse. While there is truth in that, it does not excuse our lack of attention. I wonder how the people of Jesus’ time rationalized their inability to “hear” His message. Personally, I have been working on listening better for some time, and my success appears much like the children’s game Chutes and Ladders. About the time I feel I am making progress, I slide backward.
If we honestly examine our lack of listening, we may admit to a second more serious truth. We do not hear because we do not like what the message demands of us, which is self-examination and often change. In that respect, people have been acting similarly since the beginning of time.
Lack of understanding occurs in all types of relationships: work, home, school, even friends. When we hear unsettling words, we interpret them through our perspective, not the messenger’s. Is our spouse saying we need to change? Are our colleagues’ comments suggesting that they have a better way to approach a problem? Will our child’s request demand more of our personal time? In other words, we measure words based on their effect on us personally.
Change is painful. It was in Jesus’ time, and it still is today. Most of us bristle when critiqued about our personality or behavior, especially when the criticism is uncomfortable and demands alteration. Unfortunately, too, some people’s delivery is harsh.
Our first reaction is to raise a wall. We rationalize that the messenger is being critical, hurtful or misinformed, which then allows us to readily assume that they are wrong. Common defenses include, “They aren’t walking in my shoes;” or “That is the way I have always done it!” Another is, “Why should I change?” “It is obviously their problem,” is another.
Pride is a deterrent to growth. The Pharisees and Sadducees’ pride caused their blindness to both Jesus’ message and their faults. Rather than accept Jesus’ radical teachings about the characteristics of true followers of God (kindness, humility, meekness, patience, perseverance, forgiveness and love), they vilified Him. They knew the letter of the Jewish law, but they did not live the heart of it. No; they closed their hearts to the truth rather than relinquish their belief in their righteousness.
Sometimes I wonder if we are that much different. When we disagree with another, how is most of our time spent, defending our position or considering the other person’s thoughts? Paul Simon said it well in his song “The Boxer:” “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” Is that what we are doing?
Look at our Church and us, who claim to be Catholic. Does our lifestyle reflect the teachings of Christ? Or do we, like our counterparts of old, rationalize our sinful and selfish behavior when the Catholic teachings do not agree with our choices? Hearing God’s message and then following His truths is always a struggle. We each have our personal challenges.
Humility is the beginning of listening well. Listening produces understanding. Understanding creates cooperation. Cooperation leads to peace. I believe that our relationships, our families, our societies and ultimately our world would be more peaceful and loving if we humbled ourselves and listened to others – and particularly to God’s words – with an open and accepting heart. Why else did Jesus repeat this phrase so many times?
“Whoever has ears ought to hear” (Matt 11:15).