Sunday the Twenty-third

Lord, You are just, and the judgments You make are right. Show mercy when You judge me, Your servant (Psalm 118:137,124).

If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. (Psalm 95).

     “Jesus said to his disciples: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens (ἀκούσῃ) to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen (ἀκούσῃ), take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen (παρακούσῃ) to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen (παρακούσῃ) even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17).”

The Gospel pericope proclaimed this Sunday (as well as a few previous Sundays) form what scholars term Jesus’ address on Church order. Jesus knew well the difficulties His Church would face not only from without but also from within. Even during His Public Ministry, he had to pull the 12 aside on numerous occasions and referee arguments among them concerning human concerns such as power, prestige and one’s place in the community. Many times the difficulties ‘in getting along’ start with seemingly petty issues but quickly escalate into all out battle between and among people, often involving people that we love very much.

Like so many aspects of Kingdom living, Jesus’ approach to matters human is marked by a quality of difference or “being set apart.” For example, when He teaches the disciples about the constitutive elements of greatness in the Kingdom, Jesus refers to greatness among the Gentiles. He goes onto to say to His disciples that it cannot be that way with you. In other words, living the Kingdom requires a different approach to the things of this world. Anyone can serve the needs of others and many people who are not Christian do a great job of tending to the needs of people in peril. So what does it mean to serve the needs of others in the Name of Jesus Christ? Many people are kind, loving and hospitable. So what does it mean to be kind, loving and hospitable in the Name of Jesus Christ? I am not advocating a false dichotomy here but often within Christian circles, we go about tackling the problems of life without ever seeking the wisdom of the Gospel and docility to the Holy Spirit. Sure we may open a gathering or a meeting with a prayer thinking that such an action will guarantee Kingdom results. Does it?

This Sunday’s Word of the Word not only invites but commands us to examine how we deal with the common difficulties of conflict between 2 or more persons. Simply, Jesus pronounces a singular action to address conflict: LISTEN. Courtesy of a number of influences in culture, the American use of English notes a difference between the “act of hearing” and the “act of listening.” Hearing is often understood as a passive operation that may or may not involve attention, focus or consciousness on the part of the hearer. Listening is often understood as an active operative involving not only attention, focus and consciousness but also a sense of ‘being present to the person and the moment with one’s being.’ In this distinction, listening requires far more work and energy than hearing. It is not uncommon when 2 (or more) people are trying to iron out their differences for one of the persons to say, “Darling, you’re not listening to me!” Only for the other to retort, “Sweetheart, I hear every word you are saying.”

The English translations of the Hebrew and Greek verbs use “to hear” and “to listen” interchangeably and as synonyms. When the Word of God commands one “to hear,” it is understood in the American English sense of “to listen.” This is an important point about the biblical verbs because some attempt to soft-pedal the challenge of the Word. For example, the Psalm for this Sunday, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts,” uses the verb “to hear” in the English translation. In this example and in others like it in the Scriptures, “to hear” means “to listen.” But there is another reason that underscores the proper meaning of “to listen.”

Throughout the pages of the New Testament, building on the Covenant experience of the Old Testament, the Greek verb ἀκούω (akouo) conveys the sense of attention, focus, consciousness and presence to the other. ἀκούω (akouo) also expresses the act of listening to the Word of God in the midst of the event. What this means is crucial for Christian living as it brings that element of “difference” to bear on the situation. Why the Christian is called “to listen” to the other person or persons - AND - fundamentally to listen to God, is that in the exchange of person-to-person, the Word of God can break into the situation! Imagine, Divine Wisdom invading our arguments and perhaps even being spoken by one who has managed to ‘press our buttons’ at the moment. Shocking, yes - and it makes so much sense when we consider this in the context of Christian life.

By virtue of Baptism, we speak of being constituted priest, prophet and king. Baptism into the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus enables us to offer sacrifice to the Father (priest), speak on behalf of God (prophet) and have power over sin (king). The listening that Jesus prescribes this Sunday for the ailments of relational living go beyond the necessary attentiveness to the moment and the person. Listening, as far as Jesus is concerned, is the consciousness of the Word flooding the spaces of life with Divine Wisdom, Divine Life and Divine Love. That difference when brought to situations that tug at our heart and cause queasy stomachs is truly a Gift that brings good order to one’s life, others’ lives, our world and our Church.

Lord our God,
in You justice and mercy meet.
With unparalleled love You have saved us from death
and drawn us into the circle of Your life.
Open our eyes to the wonders this life sets before us,
that we may serve You free from fear
and address You as God our Father.

We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord.

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