You’re not listening

I once lived with a man who was meticulous in keeping accounts. Every cent was noted. But his system was complicated and a friend, versed in accounts, came to visit and had a look at his method. He was amazed.

The system was so cumbersome and time-consuming. The visitor made suggestions of how to simplify the accounting but my friend argued the merits of his method. A somewhat heated exchange ensued and I happened to pass through the office when I heard the visitor almost shouting, “John, you’re not listening!”

The ancient prophets shouted many time at Israel, “you’re not listening” and Malachi did it on the threshold of the time of Jesus, “If you will not listen, I will curse your blessing.” Strong words! Yet when Jesus came he still found the leaders obdurate: “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they do not lift a finger to move them.”  And he goes on to indict them as “blind guides” and “hypocrites.”

If we look into our own hearts we find a reluctance to have our world questioned, to be told our usual way of doing things could be changed. The cost of really listening is that we stop and reflect and receive the message and see if it could help me. Perhaps we know the words of Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971): “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.” The central message is courage to change and we may also know John Henry Newman’s adage; “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”

How we long for a change of heart in our own leaders! We feel they could solve the problems of the world today if they could just listen; if the Burmese government could listen to the Rohinjas, the Turks to the Kurds, the Israelis to the Arabs and getting closer to home the different factions up and down the continent of Africa could listen to one another. But we can’t do much about these leaders, no more that Jesus could the leaders of his time.

What we can do, is look at our own resistances! Are they really justified? Would it help if I changed my way of thinking towards this or that person, this or that situation? I suppose I was an obstinate teenager. I remember someone pointing in my direction and applying the words, “My mind is made up don’t confuse me with facts.” I hope I have moved on a little since then. But the challenge to listen – really listen – remains.

5 November 2017                               Sunday 31 A

Malachy 1:14 – 2:2, 8-10                    1 Thess. 2:7-9, 13                                Matt 23:1-12

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