Easter, the Fourth Sunday

The merciful love of the Lord fills the earth; by the Word of the Lord the heavens were made, alleluia. (Psalm 33: 5-6).

Almighty ever-living God,
lead us to a share in the joys of heaven,
so that the humble flock
may reach where the brave Shepherd has gone before.
Who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever. Amen.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM (click for full Psalm)
We are his people, the sheep of his flock. (Psalm 100: 3).

SCRIPTURE EXCERPT (click for all readings)
Jesus said: “My sheep hear (ἀκούουσιν, akouousin) my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.
No one can take them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all,
and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.
The Father and I are one (John 10:27-30).”

The Shepherd stands before us this Sunday teaching quite clearly what it means to be His disciple. Simply, Jesus pronounces a singular action that is the foundation of discipleship: 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 operation involving not only attention, focus and consciousness but also ‘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 differences for one to say, “Darling, you’re not listening to me!” Only for the other to retort, “Sweetheart, I hear every word you are saying.”

Saint Cyril of Alexandria noted: “The mark of Christ’s sheep is their willingness to hear and obey, just as disobedience is the mark of those who are not his. We take the word hear to imply obedience to what has been said. People who hear God are known by him. No one is entirely unknown by God, but to be known in this way is to become part of his family. Therefore, when Christ says, “I know mine,” he means I will receive them and give them a permanent mystical relationship with myself. It might be said that inasmuch as he has become man, he has made all human beings his relatives, since all are members of the same race. We are all united to Christ in a mystical relationship because of his incarnation. Yet those who do not preserve the likeness of his holiness are alienated from him. . . . “My sheep follow me,” says Christ. By a certain God-given grace, believers follow in the footsteps of Christ. No longer subject to the shadows of the law, they obey the commands of Christ and guided by his words rise through grace to his own dignity, for they are called “children of God.”11 When Christ ascends into heaven, they also follow him. Commentary on the Gospel of John
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 one can miss the challenge and urgency of God’s Word. Examples of this abound in Sacred Scripture; Psalm 95 is a classic example, “Oh that you would hear His voice: do not harden your hearts.” Psalm 95 employs the Hebrew verb שָׁמַע (shama) and thereby expresses the necessity of taking Divine Wisdom and Instruction to heart in such a way that one’s thoughts, words and actions express Covenant living. 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 (cf. Deuteronomy 6:4-9, שָׁמַע (shama) “Hear O Israel …”), 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 are 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.