“Can you hear me now?”
For nine years, starting in 2002, this was a question we heard on our televisions multiple times a day. The question was part of a commercial for one of the nation’s larger cellular service providers. A man would be on his phone in a variety of locations and would ask this question to whoever was on the other end. The point of the commercial was to state how wonderful the signal reception which this company provided was, even at the most remote locations.
Imagine if this question was not being asked as part of a television commercial but instead was a question which Jesus may be asking of you.
Last week, my husband and I were engaged in a discussion about words found in John 10:27. Here Jesus is talking with a group of Jews who are demanding a straightforward answer to their question of his status as Messiah. He is indicating to them that he has already answered that question for them, but they failed to listen and believe. The question of which arises for readers today is, “Am I listening for his voice?”
It is one thing when someone is physically present, or connected via technology. There may still be some challenges in listening for a person’s voice such as external noises or a signal problem, but barring these and similar challenges the ability to hear someone is a simple task. However, Jesus is now not physically alive on the earth as he was when these words were shared with the Jews. We may have a good argument in regard to the struggle with listening for his voice. Or do we?
One of the problems which seemed to be present during the dialogue with the Jews is the ability to hear versus the willingness to listen. The Jews did not state that they were not hearing what Jesus was sharing. Jesus did not say that he thought the Jews were not hearing. Yet, having the ability to hear does not mean that a person has chosen to listen. Listening requires the person to go beyond the sounds and make an effort toward understanding. It requires us to put effort into taking the sounds we hear and making sense of them. First, by shaping sounds into words and then by finding meaning in those words. Next, we have to take into account a whole list of elements such as context, nonverbal cues, and purpose. Our own assumptions and expectations also impact our listening. We tend to reject anything that causes conflict in our own understandings.
What about us then?
As mentioned above, we do not have the physical presence of Jesus which can create challenges in our listening. We hear what Jesus said as recorded by writers of Scripture. We hear the interpretations which Bible scholars, pastors, Sunday School teachers, and others have given concerning Jesus’ words. But are we listening?
Listening requires us first to put down our own assumptions and expectations. The Jews were getting hung up on the fact that Jesus was not fitting their assumptions and expectations of what the Messiah would be. Each of us have formed our opinions of the nature of Jesus (and God) so when we hear what Jesus may be saying, we want those ideas, thoughts, and words to fit into our already formed view of Jesus.
Listening requires taking the time and making the effort to locate Jesus’ voice. Each of us will do this differently. For some, this will require us to find a quiet space in our lives to listen for Jesus. For others, the need to surround ourselves with trusted spiritual advisers will open us to Jesus’ voice. Developing a trust will be necessary for others, trust that Jesus is still speaking in ways that do not require physical sounds or presence. This trust is closely linked to faith.
If Jesus were to ask you the question, “Can you hear me now?” Would he find you listening?