Sheep not only hear, but LISTEN

εὐαγγελίζω (euaggelizo)
“to announce the Good News of victory in battle”

“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
These also I must lead,
and they will hear (ἀκούσουσιν, akousousin) my voice,
and there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

θεωρέω (theoreo)
(“to perceive, discover, ponder a deeper meaning”)

The Shepherd stands before us this Sunday teaching rather emphatically 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.” 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. “In the beginning,” humanity was formed in the Garden by listening exclusively to the voice of the One God Who created them. We know now the consequence of not listening in that early experience of life. 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/shema) “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 breaks into the situation. Think of the difference when Divine Wisdom invades our arguments and is sounded by one who has managed to ‘press our buttons’ in the moment. Shocking, yes - and it makes so much sense when we consider the power of sounding and listening to God’s Word, not my word.

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.