Jesus starts this well-known Parable of the Sower with the following single word; “Listen!” (vs3) Jesus is calling for those around him to take note, to give him their ears, to hear intelligently, to pay attention.
Human beings are outstanding at filtering out noise all the time. Sound waves, vibrations transmitted through the air reach our ears continuously. There is an overwhelming cacophony of sounds assaulting your ears continually, and your brain is continuously filtering out listening to it all to help you work out what you do and do not need to be aware of.
And yet, right now if I tune in to try to notice all the sounds I can hear, I can hear the fan in the photocopier in our office, I can hear Sindi speaking to Sithabile about something that doesn’t need my attention, I can hear the truck on the road and the chicken from Bhekulwandle that still thinks its dawn, the click of Sithabile’s water bottle top being clicked closed, Rob’s phone rumbling to notify him of a message, the Hadeda crowing as it flies past our building again, someone at our office table scratching their leg, the keystrokes on my keyboard, my breathing …. You get the idea.
Jesus was calling those around Him on that day recorded in Mark 4 to focus their attention on Him and on what He was saying. Later in vs9, Jesus says again; “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” It’s like Jesus is saying; ‘Use those sound-catching-appendages on your head and give your wilful attention to what I am saying’.
Jesus’ words hint at the importance of the will in listening and hearing. Having ears is not enough; having the ability to hear is not enough. To listen requires a decision to give someone your time, it requires the cessation of speaking and a will that desires to hear the person speaking. You could say it requires a humility that gives enough value to that other person’s perspective that it will be heard and considered.
I know Mark 4 is about the Parable of the Sower, but I am fixated on Jesus’ desire that those around Him would listen. I guess I’ve been sensitised to this is because of the race riots in the USA, the flood of #blacklivesmatter social media posts and reactions and the protest marches that have engulfed many cities of the world. As a white South African male, I have sadly heard many varied reactions to what has been happening some of which is rooted ignorance, fear, lack of empathy, lingering sinful racist attitudes most of which shut down the conversation or render it illegitimate – and this all makes me sorrowful. Sad that the desperately necessary conversations, the learning and healing needed in our nation and church, isn’t possible without honest, open conversations, expressions of lament and importantly the listening that is required for this all to be possible!
Just last night, a Zulu son of mine (Ntokozo Mkhize) and I met to talk openly about what he was feeling, how he has engaged with the newsfeeds of late. It was enriching to listen, to probe with questions so as to understand better his emotions and reactions. To really keep quiet and learn. And to do all this because I love him, and so what he thinks and feels matters to me and I believe matters to our church and country. I left feeling, I/we need more of this. We left not having solved anything but feeling mutually drawn together and hopeful. That encounter required intentionality and a desire to share and to learn, and it required the belief that there is hope in Jesus, otherwise talking would make no difference.
Truly hearing is a decision; it’s an action. We all have ears, but will we hear? Jesus exhorts us to hear, it’s an action we are able to take, it’s something we can do, but it is not guaranteed whether we will do. I want to urge all of us to listen more, some of us need to be brave enough to speak more, but all of us need to listen more.
We need to listen to one another; we need to listen to those with a different perspective from ours and value their perspective and humble ourselves so that we can learn and grow closer together and see healing from hurt.
And even more than this, we all need to listen to Jesus. Jesus will help us to listen to others, Jesus is the only One who can truly re-shape our hearts and heal us so that we are willing to share with one another and have hope for the future.
On this day recorded in Mark 4, Jesus wanted those gathered around Him to listen, to give Him their full attention. Jesus still wants this from you and me today and every day. We like to refer to ourselves in Reconciliation Road Church as Christ-Followers, but we can only refer to ourselves as Christ-Followers if we are those who are listening to Christ so that we can follow Him.
Those around Jesus that day had to decide to listen, to hear Him truly, make that same decision today – to lean in daily, to listen to and to hear Jesus through a habit of a devotional life, through the habit of reading the Bible with your ears tuned to God’s voice, through prayer that is listening not just speaking and through an awareness of God in the midst of your everyday life.
I believe that listening to Jesus; He will urge you to also then listen to others around you. To be intentional about validating and valuing all people in your life. Even looking for new relationships with people that are different to you, people with different life experiences and perspectives that can enrich your life as you listen to them and honour their life and story.