Commentary by Walter Albritton


July 17, 2005


Learning to Listen with the Ears of the Heart


Matthew 13:1-23


Key Verse: [Jesus said,] “Let anyone with ears listen!” – Matthew 13:9


People who want to be heard will use many different techniques to get attention. Some will quote the words of Shakespeare: “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.” A football coach may say to his players during a scrimmage, “Listen up!”

A frustrated wife may speak sharply to the husband who has buried himself in a newspaper, “You have not heard a word I have said; will you put that paper down and listen to me?”

Jesus may have used a bit of subtle humor in trying to get the attention of the crowd. Surely people must have smiled at his words, “anyone with ears.” Everyone has ears. Everyone also knows that, unless he pays careful attention, the words of the speaker may “go in one ear and out the other.” Jesus was not saying that some people are incapable of listening; he was implying that people must be willing to listen and, even more, to comprehend what they hear.

Earlier translations of our text are not as clear as recent ones. The King James, for example, has Jesus say, “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Goodspeed improved on it: “Let him who has ears listen!” The NRSV improved on Goodspeed: “Let anyone with ears listen!” The Living Bible Translation offers the clearest version yet:  “Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand!"

The clear implication of Jesus’ teaching is that understanding must lead to action. Hearing must be translated into deeds. For the Christian understanding and obedience go hand in hand. To listen and understand, and fail to act in obedience to God, is not to have heard at all.

This reference to ears by Jesus was his way of saying, “Hey, listen up now, this is important!” In a similar way a writer may use a bold font for a word or end a sentence with an exclamation point (or “squealer”).

It is interesting to observe that the phrase reappears in the Book of Revelation when Christ speaks to the seven churches:  “Anyone who is willing to hear should listen to the Spirit and understand what the Spirit is saying to the churches” (Living Bible). This seems to validate that the Risen Christ in John’s Revelation is the same Christ who spoke in parables.

It is also fascinating to remember what transpired on the Mount of Transfiguration. There Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus as though to confirm his role as the Messiah. There his countenance was transfigured with divine glory. But even more significant was what God said: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” Jesus urged the people and the disciples to listen to what he said, and God the Father commanded us to listen to Jesus. Perhaps listening to Jesus is so important because he is the Word of God made flesh!

We know, of course, that effort is necessary for us truly to listen, understand, and obey. We must want to hear what Jesus is saying and how it applies to us. We must be willing to shut out the multitude of other “voices” that are clamoring for our attention. Only then can we really hear Jesus.

Many things can become like wax in our ears and make us deaf to the voice of Jesus. We can become so busy with worldly affairs that we have no time to listen to God. We can become careless about the spiritual and allow our daily business to dominate our thinking until the voice of Jesus is but a distant memory.

We may even become obstinate and like a child put our fingers in our ears to keep from hearing what Jesus is saying to us. A friend of mine refuses to go to church because he is afraid if he does God will call him into the ministry.

The danger here is that we can refuse to listen until finally we actually lose the capacity to hear. Then the day will come when we will have to admit we have been poor stewards of the precious gift God gave us – the ability to listen and understand the Truth, for Jesus is the Truth. When the ears become atrophied, the soul is not far behind.

The great idea of this lesson is our need to learn not only to hear but to listen, understand, and obey the sweetest voice we will ever hear – the voice of our Savior. If we hear him and obey him, living as best we can the way he wants us to live, then one day we can say, “Blessed are our ears, for they hear; and blessed are our eyes, for they see.”

At the last, when God draws the curtain upon the stage of time, it is certain that we will hear his voice. There will be no wax in our ears then.  Either we will hear him say, “Depart from me, I never knew you;” or we will hear him say, “Welcome home, good and faithful servant.” This is so important that perhaps, if you listen closely, really listen, you can hear him say again, “Let anyone with ears listen!”

Even though his disciples were often “hard of hearing,” he believed that they would eventually hear and understand with the ears of their hearts. They did, and not it is our turn to become good seed rooted in good soil, and while it is day, to sow the seed of the gospel in our world today.  

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