Jesus was known both as a teacher and preacher. When he taught or when he preached, the focus was on the kingdom of God and the good news/gospel. He taught and preached to crowds on the hills of Galilee and to the religious leaders in the synagogue. At times, the hearers were only the twelve, other times it was the masses. Jesus never seemed to squander a teaching moment.
People were often amazed or astounded at his teaching. He taught with authority which usually put him in the minority. He taught using little garnish – mostly sharing the truth in parables.
People who heard him left changed – usually for the better. Some, who thought his teaching was blasphemous or even torturous could not escape his words even when he escaped their presence.
In Mark 4, after teaching on the parable of the sower a few of Jesus’ followers and the Twelve asked for some clarification.(They did this a lot.) Jesus takes the time to explain his parable and then closes the teaching moment with “he who has ears to hear, let him hear.” It’s not clear whether at that same teaching time or another Mark says Jesus also makes this cautionary comment: “Pay attention to what you hear…”
“Pay attention to what you hear” is how the NRSV translates the Greek. The NASB says “Take care what you listen to.” Interestingly enough “pay attention” and “take care” have their origin in the Greek word blepo (long “o”). Blepo is a word that means to look at, to behold, to perceive. It’s almost as though Jesus is saying – look at what you hear. His point?
His point is similar to what he said to a few religious leaders in a different context, scolding them regarding their understanding of scripture and the power of God. His point, or at least my application of his point? We need to use filters with respect to what we listen to and seek diligently to understand the scripture and the power of God.
It seems everyone has an opinion about the message of scripture. Everyone has an opinion about politics. Everyone has an opinion of how the Christian life should be lived. Everyone has an opinion about other people. Jesus is saying, forget what everyone’s opinion is, focus on the message of the kingdom. Don’t get caught up in gossip, seek the good in people. Avoid the trap of money and fame, seek first the kingdom of God. Listen cautiously to those who have masses following in their shadow, the gospel challenges people to their core, it doesn’t collect people without asking for commitment. Use caution when people suggest you light lamps only to put them under a bushel. You light lamps to shed light.
Luke records Jesus saying basically the same thing but using different words. Instead of “what” you listen to, he quotes the phrase as “how” you listen. One focuses on the content, the other on the process. This is where discernment comes in. How we listen suggests again that we cautiously filter everything. It’s not that we stand ears wide open taking in everything and then trying to sort it out. We listen selectively. We bounce what we hear against the biblical text looking for the truth. How we listen suggests we select not only what we want to hear, but also for what we need to hear. We avoid hearing false information and seek the truth.
It wasn’t that long ago that I bounced messages back and forth on Facebook with one of my teenage grandsons. The context of our conversation centered on what we watch on TV or in movies and how that might affect our thinking – even our actions. I shared with him how I had stopped watching one of my favorite shows. I stopped not because I no longer liked the show. I REALLY liked the show. I stopped because I didn’t like how the content of the show haunted my thinking. Similar to the adage “garbage in, garbage out,” this show was leaving nothing but garbage in my mind.
Whether its television, the radio, the network news, chatting with friends or browsing web sites, what we hear and how we hear it can alter our thinking. It can push us away from the message of the kingdom – the good news – and cause us to miss the message of truth.
This is also true when it comes to the biblical text itself and individual perceptions of what is heard and how it is heard.
Many of us have had the experience of discussing a Sunday sermon with a fellow church member and then asking ourselves, “Did they listen to the same sermon I did?” “Did they hear what I heard?”
Recently I had a discussion with one of the other men in our Bible Study class. We were talking about the current lesson series and overall comments from the class. I made this observation during our discussion. “If you listen to what some of the people are saying, it contradicts what they said a week ago, or a month ago. They seem to get caught up in a moment and forget they apparently believed something different not that long ago.” It’s as though they are not even listening to themselves.
What we listen to and how we listen to it, is critical in so many areas. If we get one side of a story, we only understand it from that perspective. If we hear another side of the same story, it either clarifies or contradicts. It’s our responsiblity to sift both sides and find the truth. There are times when I think I hear bread when the intent was leven.
“Take care what you listen to…”
“Take care how you listen…”
We have responsibility not only for what we say, but how we manage what we hear.
Do you hear what I hear?