Hearing and Listening

For decades, E.F. Hutton was one of the most respected financial firms in the United States. While providing investors with solid investing advice, the firm became known for its powerful TV commercials. Their commercials were set at restaurants, dinner parties, or where large groups of people were gathered. Each began with crowd noise generated by many conversations when suddenly, a young professional’s voice would cut through and remark that “his broker was E.F. Hutton.” Instantly, those gathered would turn, stop all conversation, and listen to him. And then, after moments of total silence, a “voice” would remark: “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”

I mention this because a quick survey of Sacred Scripture reveals that hearing and listening are highly valued:

For example, in the Gospel of Mark (7:35-37), a deaf man also suffering from a speech impediment is brought to Jesus. Taking him aside, Jesus places his fingers into his ears, touches his tongue, and declares: “Ephphatha.” Be opened. And immediately, the man’s hearing and speech impediment are cured.

In the Gospel of John (5:25), Jesus speaks of the Resurrection. “Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”

And in the Acts of the Apostles (22:6-16), St. Paul reminds early Christians of his conversion and details how he was thrown to the ground, deprived of his sight, and heard the voice of the Lord: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.” And the Lord told him that he should go into Damascus and wait for a sign. In his blindness, he waited until the sign, Ananias, arrived and spoke. What happened? Paul received his sight and was told that he had been appointed by God to be a witness for Him to all men of what he had just seen and heard.

In the Book of Deuteronomy (6:2-6), Moses invokes the people gathered around him to fear the Lord and keep His statutes and commandments: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today.”

In the Gospel of Mark (12:28-34), we find Jesus reciting these very same words in the presence of the scribes. But then, Jesus provides them the “way” to accomplish this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

For those hearers, it must have set off a proverbial time bomb within their hearts. Why? Because Jesus, the Creator and Divine knower of our hearts, had gazed into their very being and found them lacking in compassion, empathy, and love. Our Lord must have sensed a people who were committed to God and yet capable of so much more.

The same is true of you and me. While each of us are called to be good hearers and listeners, we are also called to an active faith and not to place it under a bushel basket. We are called to be salt to a world that has lost its flavor. We are called to provide works of mercy where none exist. We are called to display the flame of faith we received at baptism and beam that light so that it illuminates the entire world. In short, we are called to unleash the Gospel of Jesus Christ and declare to the world that Jesus is Lord!

While attending a recent ordination of deacons, I was moved when the archbishop placed the Book of the Gospels into the deacon’s hands and said:

Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you now are: Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.

As those life-changing words were spoken, those present grew quiet and listened, fully aware that the way to God is not a difficult and convoluted process. Rather, it may be found rather easily: through love of our neighbor. Jesus reminds us that those who follow this wisdom are not far from the kingdom of God.

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