Ingrafted Relationships

Read Romans 11:1-18

Since moving to our current home, I have become much more involved in the landscaping choices and maintenance. My participation is on the simpler side of these activities. My partner does the harder work in terms of planting and major pruning. I am more of a visionary and trimmer of small plants. I also assumed the responsibility of keeping plants outdoors hydrated. As I have become more active in landscaping there is much which I have learned but there is also a greater awareness of how much more I need to learn. I am clearly not at the point where I could graft any of our plants or control the pollination of any. I do have a rudimentary understanding of both however. I greatly enjoy the success which we have had with our landscaping. Now if I could just figure out how to get some of our plants to grow faster.

I share this information regarding landscaping at our house because in Paul’s letter to the Romans, he is using plant husbandry as an image when discussing Jews and Gentiles. Paul’s letter to the Romans is an apologetic in regard to Jesus for the Roman Jews primarily and the non-Jewish (Gentile) Roman believers secondarily. His intent is to prove that Jesus is the Messiah. At this point in the letter, Paul is explaining the relationships between Jewish and Gentile believers. He indicates that while there is a majority of Jews who have rejected Jesus as the Messiah, God has never rejected the Jews. The Jews who have not rejected Jesus are a remnant who God has saved by grace. The rejection which others have made opened access to the Gentiles. Through their rejection, the Gentiles have been brought into God’s fold, ingrafted to the tree of life. Paul also states that the Jews who have rejected Jesus will always be given the opportunity to rejoin God’s tree. Then he gives a warning to the Gentile believer. He warns that the Gentile believers should never consider themselves superior to the Jews who rejected Jesus. All are supported by God, the source of life.

This passage speaks to all of us about relating to one another. Whether we are considering the Christian-Jewish relationship or any relationship between Christians and non-Christians, including atheists or agnostics, we are to view others as equal branches on God’s tree. The first branch of the tree were the Hebrew people and then God chose to engraft other branches of the human race. This truth must inform and guide our words and actions as we engage in a highly diversified humanity, a humanity in which every branch is a creation of God.

Give It Back

20 Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said, so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. 21 So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. 22 Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

23 He saw through their duplicity and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

25 He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

26 They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.

Luke 20:20-26 (NIV)

There was a time when I owned an inked stamp which I would use to mark books when I purchased them. The stamp indicated who the book belonged to and I would stamp the book on the inside cover. I did this so that if I lent the book to someone or accidently left it lying somewhere, it could be returned to me. The stamp indicated the book was my property and should be returned.

In today’s passage from Luke’s gospel, we encounter a question about taxes and returning what belongs to someone. The Jewish leadership sent spies to trap Jesus in saying something which would anger the Roman authorities.They determined this would be a good way to get rid of Jesus. The spies ask Jesus if it is right for Jews to pay tax to Caesar. Jesus knows what they are attempting so he has them produce a denarius. He then asks them whose image and inscription are on the denarius. They indicate it is Caesar’s so he instructs them to give back to Caesar what belongs to him while giving God what belongs to God.

Reading Jesus’s response, we are confronted with our own sense of civic responsibility and our responsibility to God. On a civic level, we are bound to return a portion of our government-issued money back to the government to assist in our protection and the care of all of the citizens in our country. Look at any paper bill or coin used as money and you will see the inscription, “The United States of America.”

Our responsibility to God is of even greater importance. Considering God created EVERYTHING, there is nothing outside the scope of what should be returned. God, however, does not need our money or anything else which is placed in our care. When we tithe, present an offering of any sort, we do so as an act of gratitude. What God desires most is our love. By giving our love to God and all which God has created, we are returning what has been begun by God. God gave love to us and filled our lives with love along with the results of that love. Love belongs to God and should be returned to God.

Give to the government (Caesar) what belongs to the government, and give to God what belongs to God which is everything but especially love.

Such A Time

Then Esther summoned Hathak, one of the king’s eunuchs assigned to attend her, and ordered him to find out what was troubling Mordecai and why.

So Hathak went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate. Mordecai told him everything that had happened to him, including the exact amount of money Haman had promised to pay into the royal treasury for the destruction of the Jews. He also gave him a copy of the text of the edict for their annihilation, which had been published in Susa, to show to Esther and explain it to her, and he told him to instruct her to go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people.

Hathak went back and reported to Esther what Mordecai had said. 10 Then she instructed him to say to Mordecai, 11 “All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold scepter to them and spares their lives. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.”

12 When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, 13 he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

17 So Mordecai went away and carried out all of Esther’s instructions.

Esther 4:5-17 (NIV)

Timing can be key in some situations. Submitting an application for a position at just the right time can make the difference in receiving the position or not. Walking into a coffeehouse at a specific moment can lead to an encounter which may open doors to a new opportunity or relationship. An idea may be well received at one time even if it had been rejected at another time. Timing can be the key to success.

The passage from the story of Esther focuses on timing. Esther had caught the eye of the king and the king chose to make her his queen. This placed Esther in a position which would later serve her and the Jews well. When Mordecai shared the plight of Esther’s people with her, she was hesitant to approach the King because of her fear for her own safety. It is only when Mordecai pointed out the true threat to her and her family’s safety did Esther begin to see the call to action in a different light. Then when Mordecai asks Esther if this is the time for which she has been placed where she is, she springs into action.

Each day we are given new opportunities and new challenges. Some of these are small in perspective while others are significant. God is moving us forward and providing us with choices which may lead us to a position where we can make a meaningful impact. Fear can cause us to hesitate from acting on opportunities that our positions may afford us. Just as Mordecai asked Esther, we must ask ourselves if we may have been placed where we are for such a time as this.

Acceptance

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
    I will sing the praises of your name.”

10 Again, it says,

“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”

11 And again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
    let all the peoples extol him.”

12 And again, Isaiah says,

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
    one who will arise to rule over the nations;
    in him the Gentiles will hope.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:7-13 (NIV)

Frequently in life there develops an “in” group and an “out” group. Those within the special group achieve their membership based upon a defined set of criteria. This criteria can be items such as athletic ability, physical attributes, wealth, or even who the person knows. Sometimes being included may even be based on ancestry. Being part of the “in” group affords a person special knowledge, privileges, and treatment. If a person is a member of the “out” group, animosity and resentment can arise towards the members of the other group. There can be emotional and psychological pain experienced by those on the out. Trying to build acceptance among the groups can be a true challenge.

Reading from the letter to the Roman believers, we can see that there has developed a division among them. This division is based on ancestry and history. The Jews had always been considered as God’s chosen people since the time of Abraham and Sarah. This delineation was due to the events regarding Isaac and Ishmael. Ishmael was sent away and Isaac became the chosen one to carry forward God’s promises to Abraham. This would begin the lineage of the

Jews, the “in” group. Those who are not part of the lineage were referred to as Gentiles and were on the outside. Paul points out that God did not intend this to be a permanent separation. In Jesus Christ, this division has been eliminated. The believers in Rome are to understand this as part of their belief in Christ and accept one another. Belief in Jesus Christ unites those who used to be divided.

This type of division still exists today in a different way. Too often today the “in” group is considered to be members of the Church. The “out” group are those who are not a part of the fellowship. There is an attitude of being special among those who worship God together. A special set of words and ritual behaviors have been established among this group. A set of criteria has been adopted which must be met to be allowed in the group. There is even an us versus them mentality. 

Like the believers in Rome, we must learn to accept one another and break through the walls which divide us; no longer in/out or us/them but an attitude and behavior of we. Those who are believers must lead the way by reaching out to those who are not currently part of the fellowship. Going outside the walls of a building or the barriers we have constructed through rules and rituals. Accepting people where they are just as Christ accepted us where we were.

Faith

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those
    whose transgressions are forgiven,
    whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
    whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”

Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. 10 Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! 11 And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. 12 And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

Romans 4:1-12 (NIV)

What does it mean to have faith? The dictionary states “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” Having faith does not come easily nor does it mean abandoning what common sense tells us. The key to faith is the trust which is necessary. Trust takes time to develop so it is natural that faith takes time to develop. When faith has been established, the confidence one has in someone or something will aid the person in following and/or believing.

In our reading today, Paul writes about the faith of Abraham. Reading Paul’s letters can at times feel like you are on rabbit chase. If you are able to keep on the trail with Paul, you will obtain great insights into faith, Jesus Christ, God’s love and how to live as redeemed children of God. Paul speaks about how Abraham became righteous, or right with God. Paul writes that Abraham was right with God not because of any actions which Abraham did but because he had faith in God. Paul then continues in what may seem a very complicated manner to show that this righteousness is available to Gentile and Jew alike.

For us today, Paul’s connection between Abraham’s faith and the faith of people in Paul’s time is easily transferable to us. Abraham’s faith was in God, our faith is in Christ, the revelation of God in humanity. Like Abraham and the Romans, we are not right with God because of anything we have done or will do but because we trust and have confidence in Jesus Christ. Faith is all we need to have confidence in living as a redeemed child of God.

One Household

11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Ephesians 2:11-22

One of the recurring themes of human history is division. Looking through the annals of history it is like watching the waves of the sea. One group of humans separate from another group for a number of reasons. There are times of deliberate breaking away, while at other times it is not by choice but out of necessity. These divisions can occur for philosophical or religious reasons. Practical reasons like a need for space or access to resources being depleted due to the group’s size may cause separation. Then we see groups reunite because the original impetus to divide is altered or no longer exists. The pattern continues indefinitely, apart then together then apart once again. Currently in our country there has been a growing division of our citizens. Calls to reunite are growing stronger. Only history will be able to determine which trend will prevail.

In the letter to the believers in Ephesus, we hear about the reuniting of two groups. A majority of the Ephesian believers were Gentiles, or non-Jewish. Paul writes to them declaring that in Jesus Christ the barriers between Jews and Gentiles are removed. While they had lived separately over thousands of years, Jesus has reunited them into one house. All are fully children of God’s covenant with the people. Every person has full access to the Father, Son and Spirit. The binding together of all people, accomplished by Christ, created one household.

Paul’s words make it sound so simple. Clearly God views us as one people. Yet we continue to see divisions of nationalities, races, philosophical ideals, faith and religious concepts, and political views. Is it possible to achieve a sustained sense of being one people? Yes, in some areas of our lives but not completely at this point. Is there notvalue in diversity? Absolutely! But like a jigsaw puzzle which has diverse pieces when connected together creates one picture, diverse people connected can create one people. God is our connection.  Jesus did not intend to make everyone the same. Jesus provided the avenue for us to understand that while we have differences, we are one people, one household, one redeemed collection of God’s covenant people.

Starting Over

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing:

“This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:

“‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them. And in any locality where survivors may now be living, the people are to provide them with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.’”

Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites—everyone whose heart God had moved—prepared to go up and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. All their neighbors assisted them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with valuable gifts, in addition to all the freewill offerings.

Moreover, King Cyrus brought out the articles belonging to the temple of the Lord, which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and had placed in the temple of his god.[a] Cyrus king of Persia had them brought by Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah.

This was the inventory:

gold dishes 30

silver dishes 1,000

silver pans 29

10 gold bowls 30

matching silver bowls 410

other articles 1,000

11 In all, there were 5,400 articles of gold and of silver. Sheshbazzar brought all these along with the exiles when they came up from Babylon to Jerusalem.

Ezra 1:1-11

Have you ever had to start over because of a life change, a disaster, or a relocation? I truly cannot imagine what it must feel like to be a refugee even though I have had the pleasure of knowing some refugees. Most of the start overs in my life have been due to choices which I have willingly made. In some cases, starting over may bring about new opportunities and a better life. This is not the case for everyone but the hope is this restart in life will result in positive changes. That is the definitely the hope of immigrants, people who change careers, and individuals who redefine themselves.

Today, our reading presents a starting over for the Jewish people. These people have lived in exile since King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took them captive and his army destroyed the temple, Jerusalem, and all the Judean cities.

Many years passed and now King Cyrus was in charge. King Cyrus states that God has told him to have a temple built in Jerusalem. Sobhe gives the decree that the Jewish people are to build the temple with assistance of their non-Jewish neighbors. He even orders that the gold and silver items taken from the original temple be returned. The Jewish people are being given the opportunity to start over.

Starting over can be rather difficult. Just as the Jews  had to work hard to build the temple again, we may have to work hard when given the opportunity at a new beginning. The  important point to remember is that we do not start over alone. God was the reason the Jews were rebuilding the temple. Every step of the way God provided them the necessary resources and the support which they would need. God does the same for us. When we need to start over, either by choice or not, turning to God for help will benefit our efforts.

History Matters

This word came to Jeremiah concerning all the Jews living in Lower Egypt—in Migdol, Tahpanhes and Memphis—and in Upper Egypt: “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: You saw the great disaster I brought on Jerusalem and on all the towns of Judah. Today they lie deserted and in ruins because of the evil they have done. They aroused my anger by burning incense to and worshiping other gods that neither they nor you nor your ancestors ever knew. Again and again I sent my servants the prophets, who said, ‘Do not do this detestable thing that I hate!’ But they did not listen or pay attention; they did not turn from their wickedness or stop burning incense to other gods. Therefore, my fierce anger was poured out; it raged against the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem and made them the desolate ruins they are today.

“Now this is what the Lord God Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Why bring such great disaster on yourselves by cutting off from Judah the men and women, the children and infants, and so leave yourselves without a remnant? Why arouse my anger with what your hands have made, burning incense to other gods in Egypt, where you have come to live? You will destroy yourselves and make yourselves a curse[a] and an object of reproach among all the nations on earth. Have you forgotten the wickedness committed by your ancestors and by the kings and queens of Judah and the wickedness committed by you and your wives in the land of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem? 10 To this day they have not humbled themselves or shown reverence, nor have they followed my law and the decrees I set before you and your ancestors.

11 “Therefore this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: I am determined to bring disaster on you and to destroy all Judah. 12 I will take away the remnant of Judah who were determined to go to Egypt to settle there. They will all perish in Egypt; they will fall by the sword or die from famine. From the least to the greatest, they will die by sword or famine. They will become a curse and an object of horror, a curse and an object of reproach. 13 I will punish those who live in Egypt with the sword, famine and plague, as I punished Jerusalem. 14 None of the remnant of Judah who have gone to live in Egypt will escape or survive to return to the land of Judah, to which they long to return and live; none will return except a few fugitives.”

Jeremiah 44:1-14 (NIV)

I have always been a history buff. In fact, history was part of my college major. One of the reasons I enjoy history so much is because I subscribe to the words of the 19th century philosopher, George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Winston

Churchill paraphrased Santayana in his 1948 speech by saying, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” Unfortunately, history is too easily forgotten and/or not taught and we see a  repeat of wrong decisions with disastrous results.

In the passage from Jeremiah, we see God communicating the same message. God has a message for the Jews who fled to Egypt. Jeremiah shares this message. Here God reminds them of what happened when they lived in Judah and Jerusalem. The people had chosen to burn incense and worship gods other than God.  Despite continued warnings to stop, the behavior continued. This led to the destruction of the Temple and all the Judean cities, including Jerusalem. Now the remnants in Egypt are repeating the same behaviors. They have failed to remember their history so they will experience the same negative results.

Here is a lesson for us today. God may have put the words spoken into Santayana and Churchill’s mouths. We are to remember those events which occurred before us. It is important that we understand what led to the negative times in order that when we see or partake in similar behaviors, we stop. Only then will we not suffer the same outcomes or worse.

Most Important

Those within the Christian faith (and those who are not) have just celebrated the holiday of Easter. For Christians, this celebration is one which remembers the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. This day marks the end of a week which has become known as Holy Week. Holy Week recalls significant events Including:

  • Jesus’ arrival to Jerusalem which turns into a procession with palm branches
  • Jesus’ final meal which Jesus has with the closest of his disciples
  • Jesus’ arrest by the temple guards, his “trials” before the religious leader
  • Jesus’ appearances before Pilate and Herod
  • Jesus’ crucifixion and death
  • Jesus’ body being placed in a tomb

For non-Christians, this celebration focuses solely on the Easter Bunny, hiding Easter eggs and all types of sweets and candies. Christians also take part in these fun activities. Our Jewish brothers and sisters also celebrate Passover which is significant in the Christian history as well.

The other significant celebration which is shared by Christians and non-Christians is Christmas. The Christian focus is on the incarnation of God in Jesus. Non-Christians focus on Santa Claus. Jews celebrate Hanukkah around the same time as well. A majority share in the giving of gifts, festive decorations, Santa Claus, and family gatherings.

As a Christian leader, I have wrestled with how our traditions and actions deal with both of these holidays which are significant celebrations of events in our faith. I would argue that Christmas appears to be much more important to us than Easter. Looking at the preparation, the amount of gatherings, the type of decorating, and the amount of money we spend on Christmas, our behaviors give this indication.

On an emotional level, I get it. Celebrating a birth is much more uplifting and exciting than acknowledging a torturous death followed by the foreign concept of a full, bodily resurrection. The time of the year may also have some influence. Christmas is celebrated around the winter solstice which is a very dark, and in many parts a very cold, time of year. We all need something to lift our spirits and give us hope. Easter is celebrated in the early part of spring when we are seeing new life and warming temperatures, so we already are experiencing a renewal of hope.

On a theological level, I think the emphasis is backwards. While the incarnation of God is truly amazing and unique to Christianity, and while birth has to be necessary in Jesus’ story before the events around Easter can even happen, the impact of Jesus’ death and resurrection has much greater significance in our faith, life, understanding of God, and life after death. Without Easter, Christmas would be just a celebration of another human birth. Easter gives us the basis of the Christian faith. The message of Easter will be what Peter proclaims during the Jewish Festival of Passover which is considered the birth of the Christian faith. The message of Easter is an outward demonstration of the love and grace which only God could provide.

I realize that economic and traditional behaviors will not be altered by my thoughts here. I can only hope that for those who acknowledge their belief in the risen Jesus, the Christ, it will cause all to pause and examine the behaviors. Maybe even work to bring the level of our Easter celebrations up to the minimum of our Christmas celebrations.

Listen

“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?