Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

July 6, 2014 


Listening with the ears of the heart


People use different techniques to get attention. The famous words of Shakespeare come to mind: “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.”

A presiding officer at a head table may tap on a glass or clap his hands to get attention. 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 used subtle humor to get the attention of his audience. On one occasion when speaking to a crowd about John the Baptist, Jesus said, “He who has ears, let him hear.” People surely smiled. Everyone has ears.

But not everyone “uses” their ears. Some people do not listen. We explain that by saying that the words of the speaker “went in one ear and out the other.” That happens to all of us unless we pay careful attention to the person speaking.

 Jesus was simply reminding his listeners that they must be intentional about listening in order to comprehend what they hear.

Earlier translations of this phrase used by Jesus 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 implication of Jesus is that listening should lead to understanding and understanding to action. Hearing must be translated into deeds. Understanding must result in obedience. To listen and understand, and fail to act in obedience, is not to have heard at all.

Jesus’ reference to ears 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 a “squealer”).

The phrase about listening 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 reinforces the idea that the risen Christ in John’s Revelation is the same Christ who spoke in the parables recorded in the Gospels.

The importance of listening is stressed in the biblical story of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. There Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus to confirm his role as the Messiah. Jesus’ countenance was transfigured with divine glory. But observe 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 commands us to listen to Jesus. And listening to Jesus must be important because the Bible says he is the “Word” of God made flesh! An old hymn, “How Firm a Foundation,” raises the ultimate question: “What more can he say?”

Hearing an internal voice is, of course, never easy. A multitude of other “voices” are clamoring for our attention. None of us ever really “hears” Jesus until we intentionally shut out other noises and give him a chance to be heard in the silence of our souls.

Many things can become like wax in our ears which makes us deaf to the voice of Jesus. We can become too busy to listen to God. We can get so focused on the body that we have no time for the soul.

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 for fear God will speak to him.

The danger in refusing to listen is that we may eventually lose the capacity to hear the one voice to which we should pay attention. When the ears become atrophied, the soul is not far behind.

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.”

When Jesus walked the dusty roads of Nazareth his disciples were “hard of hearing.” We are much like them. Eventually, however, those first century disciples listened and understood Jesus with the ears of their hearts. Then they acted in obedience and the Jesus Movement spread throughout the world.  

If you will pause now and listen closely, really listen, you may hear his quiet inner voice say again, “Let anyone with ears listen!” But you can only hear him by listening with the ears of your heart. + + +