You’re not listening! Listening is so important in communication, and yet often we are not very good at it. Sometimes it is because we do not like what is being said. Other times it is because we are more interested in something else. Still other times we are thinking about what we are going to say next. Whatever the case, I suspect most of us have been told at one point or another, You’re not listening!”
So if it is hard enough to listen to each other, how is it we are going to be able to listen to God? The problem is articulated in a different way by Saint John: “Whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” It is hard to find the right balance between how we encounter or treat people in this world while at the same time striving for a relationship with God. How easy it is to be swayed by the thoughts of people we can see without considering God who we cannot see.
It is no small challenge. A quick look at our own lives, or the world around us shows quite clearly the reality that some are loved and cared for while many others are not. Saint Luke quotes Jesus as saying, “For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.” It is easy, of course to love our friends. But when it comes to those who are difficult to love, it can be another story all together.
Listening should be, at its core, a desire to understand. And this type of listening to understand is one of the most needed skills today. We attack each other. We ridicule the positions of those with whom we disagree, and then we take some type of pride in being able to show how our exaggerations of the opposing position are easily dispatched as false. Those on the other side do the same to me.
But what if rather than arguing, we asked questions to understand? What if instead of taking every story in the news as true, we sought to make sure we understood? What if instead of thinking about what we are about to say next we took time to think of what questions to ask to better understand? We might find that we could actually discover some areas of common ground rather than believing that those who do not agree with us are wacky or stupid.
Nowhere is this listening for understanding more important than it is with God. Jeremiah recounts how the people do not listen to God. God gives them the help to lead lives that are healthy, holy and life-giving. But the people do not listen. Sometimes it can be the case in our own lives that we do not listen to God, or if we do, we do not listen for understanding. Why is it God gives us laws and rules? God does so because he wants us to live forever.
“See, I have today set before you life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I am giving you today, loving the LORD, your God, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes and ordinances, you will live …” We cannot choose both God and sin. We cannot be both holy and selfish. We cannot choose both life and death. This is the point Jesus raises in the gospel today. We cannot be internally divided. We need to be all in for God. We need to make holiness our quest. We need to recognize when we fall and take advantage of God’s gift of forgiveness. We need to listen to God so that we can understand what God wants us to become. When we do, we receive the life God wants us to have, the life that we can live forever.