Saturday, March 24, 2007

Saturday in the 4th Week of Lent
The Importance of Listening

Readings: Jeremiah 11:18-20; Psalm 7:2-3, 9bc-10, 11-12; John 7:40-53

The story of Jesus is fast reaching its terrible climax. If this was a Jaws movie, it would be around this time that the scary music is played… As we heard in the first reading, the Good Shepherd is fast being transformed into a trustful lamb being led to the slaughterhouse. But not all are slaughterers in the story. As we heard in the gospel, Jesus also has his supporters. And it’s beneficial for us to focus our meditation today on the difference between these two groups of people.

Quite clearly, the slaughterers, the scribes and Pharisees are the knowledgeable ones. They have all the necessary information and are very sure of themselves. Not only do they think they know, with absolute certainty, who Jesus is and where he comes from, but there is also no doubt in their minds that prophets to not come out of Galilee. They have no qualms about slaughtering the lamb. In contrast, there are others in the gospel who are not so sure. It’s likely that they too have heard the ancient prophecies, but they are beginning to have their doubts. They are beginning to suspect the unthinkable: Jesus is the Christ. Gradually they become supporters of the Shepherd.

The gospel makes the reason for this difference in response very clear. Those who become supporters of the Shepherd are led to do so simply because they have taken the trouble actually to listen to Jesus. They have allowed themselves to encounter the truth of Jesus’ words, the tone of his voice, the sincerity of his demeanor, the force of his personality. And they have been transformed by the encounter. Not only have they been given new insight into who Jesus is, but more important, they have been given the power to change and so to join the ranks of Jesus’ supporters.

In contrast, the slaughterers refuse to listen. They are too well-defended in their prejudice. As Nicodemus says, they prefer to pass judgment on a man without giving him a hearing and discovering what he is about. They are too resistant to change, to consider new ways of thinking and acting and relating to God and to one another. Although they may have heard Jesus, they don’t allow themselves to truly listen, to truly encounter the person behind the preaching. And because of their refusal to listen and to change, it is the Shepherd who will instead be transformed into a lamb and then be slaughtered at their hands.

This comparison is also an image of our own situation. All too often, we know quite well what is expected of us. But we can’t seem to carry it out. Yet we refuse to bring our resistance before the Lord and to listen to him. What’s the point? We already know what he will say. But we know it only as information, not yet as a powerful potentially life-changing Word. In such situations we have a choice. On the one hand, we can allow ourselves to listen to Jesus. We can allow him to give us the wisdom to understand and the strength to carry out what is expected of us and, in so doing, become true supporters of the Shepherd. Or we can elect to cling stubbornly to our prejudices, to continue operating only on the level of information, to refuse to truly listen to and be transformed by Jesus. Rather than being changed ourselves, we can instead choose to turn the Shepherd who wishes only to lead us to green pastures into a lamb led by us to the slaughterhouse. It’s around this time that the music from Jaws will start playing…

Which are we then: slaughterers or supporters? How well do we listen?

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