A Way of Hearing
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.
October 6, 2023, Words By: Hultner Estrada, Image By: Terence Faircloth
Christianity is, above all, a way of seeing. I wonder, however, if it’s also a way of hearing. Listening holds profound significance in our lives. The ear is the first organ to function within our mother’s womb and the last to stop working at our death.
Throughout our lives, we hear more than we see! It is also true that most of the sounds that reach our ears are discarded by our brains. Our brain filters out unimportant sounds so that we predominantly hear those that are pleasant or of great importance. We tend to filter things even further, often hearing only what we want to hear. So, could this biological reality be applicable to our communication with God?
This question lingers as I contemplate this week’s lectionary text, where Jesus doesn’t adopt the comforting tone of the Good Shepherd or the enthusiastic words of an evangelist. He speaks with the tongue of a prophet of old. Matthew 21:33-46 presents an agitated Jesus sharing what appears to be an unpleasant parable about a vineyard. This vineyard, instead of producing delicious grapes and wines, ended up yielding bitter grapes in both the literal and figurative sense. The harvest of this vineyard was disaster, violence, and death, all stemming from the actions of its workers.
The parable is only the prelude to Jesus’ core message: “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.” He addresses spiritual leaders so deafened by their own rules, regulations, and pride that they could not hear the Good News.
How does the ear react when God speaks like thunder, His love for creation taking on the prophetic tone—emphatic and dire, foretelling imminent perils and urging immediate change?
Clearly, the chief priests and the Pharisees could not react positively to Jesus’ call to self-examination. The parallel passage from Mark says that these leaders perceived that he was saying these words against them (Mark 12:12). They perceived with their ears that he was not speaking about them or to them, but “against” them. After all, this was not their first encounter with Jesus.
Just days earlier, Jesus had lamented the inability of those same leaders to listen: “The men of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah,” Jesus lamented… “and the Queen of the South came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon´s wisdom… and now someone greater than Solomon and Jonah is here” … and you do not get the message (Matthew 12:41-43, emphasis added by me). Why do some people react positively when God turns on his noisy alarms? Why do others attack his messengers?
I’m reminded of the contemporary urban prophets from all walks of life who are among us. They simply cannot remain silent because they already know the disaster that awaits if things continue the same way, whether it be in politics, religion, the environment, or more. They are often despised and marginalized by elements of society. In the prophetic tradition of Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, John the Baptist, and Jesus, they know a better way, but they often earn the contempt of leaders and institutions.
I feel compelled to ask myself here: how do I respond when the divine message urges me to self-reflection and transformation? Whether it’s in my personal life, professional endeavors, spiritual community, or society at large, how does my ear react when God’s voice calls for a change of course (repentance)? After all, “whoever has ears, let them hear.”
Dwelling Among Us
Do you know somebody who has clearly been sent by God as an urban prophet to your city? Would you take a few minutes to pray for this person and think about ways to provide support and companionship?