#islike: Jesus shows us how to hear and be heard

Several years ago a distant relative who had looked to me during her pregnancy for tips, for baby showers, for the way of mothering, for the how-to transition from career person to full time mother, called me in a rage just after arriving home from giving birth to her first child. ‘You never told me childbirth was like this! Why didn’t you tell me how painful it was and how horrible I would feel afterwards?  This is the worst thing, ever! You and everyone else lied to me – said it would be easy. No one ever told me it was like this!’

She had a breast infection from nursing after only 3 days. I knew how painful that could be and I had great sympathy. But I was so taken back by her charge that ‘no one ever told her how awful giving birth was’ and her charge that I along with other friends and family had actually ‘lied’ to her, that I didn’t know what I could possibly say to comfort or assure her that the pain would pass. All I could do was offer to come over. Which I did – only to find her still in a rage and determined to never breast feed again.

As I held her newborn, I thought of what I could have said differently before her baby was born that would have prepared her on some level for the difficult part of birth and nursing. Anyone who has delivered a baby experiences varying levels of pain before, during, and after childbirth.  I did.  But it had never occurred to me then – nor even to this day – to point to that part of the experience as a way of preparation for childbirth.  I hadn’t lied to her, I hadn’t hidden anything. Pain simply did not define my experience in childbirth. Nor did postpartum depression.  I didn’t have that experience, so I could not have said so to her. But I wondered. Could I really have said anything to her – anything that would have helped, that she would have even heard?

How deaf are we to other people’s experiences in anything as a way of pointing us to our own experience of that anything. Everyone just talks at one another and no one hears – no one understands a word they have said.

Why didn’t anyone tell me it was like this?”

I hear from aging relatives a similar lament – though not as angrily charged as the new mother I referenced above.  ‘No one ever told me that getting old is like this!’  As they experience one loss after another – of their friends, of their sight or hearing, of their mobility, of their memory – they wonder why everyone seemed to have sugar-coated the final season.  ‘You’re not old, you’re wise,’ or the now popular, ‘getting older is like fine wine, you improve with age,’  feels like a lie to them.

But those quips aren’t un-truthful. They simply speak to the experience of some people who have been there.

How deaf are we to other people’s experiences in anything as a way of pointing us to our own experience of that anything.  Everyone just talks at one another and no one hears – no one understands a word they have said.

Jesus had a different way.  He didn’t talk at the people.  It was job one to ensure that what he was saying would be heard.

Delivering what some believe is the primary message of Matthew’s gospel – that the Kingdom of Heaven has arrived and been planted simultaneously in the here and now and in the not yet – Jesus points the people gathered to hear him – in his first public Sermon on the Mount –  to a life in God’s realm, in his kingdom, in obedience to God. He points them to an experience of God that contrasts with their own experience as people ruled by the Romans and living by the culture’s rules and values.

To them he speaks in parables for the purpose of clarity.  He uses a number of “is like” links in the teaching recorded in Matthew’s gospel:

  • The kingdom of heaven may be compared to (is like) someone who sowed good seed in his field
  • “Every teacher of religious law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as ol
  • It is like children playing a game in the public square.
  •  “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field.
  •  “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a fishing net that was thrown into the water and caught fish of every kind.

Jesus teaches this way so that the people will  ‘hear and understand,’  referencing the parable of the seeds to the disciples to explain how it works –  the good soil is ‘the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields…” (Mt 13:23).

In today’s teaching he offers two more parables to enable God’s people to understand the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven, the kingdom of God now arrived and planted.  He taps into the culture’s agrarian experience – the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, the kingdom of heaven is like yeast.  They hear and they get it.

Remember he wasn’t preaching to the choir – he wasn’t ‘followed’ by anyone but the disciples at this point.  He was preaching to gentiles and Pharisees and Sadducees and Romans. He used ‘is like’ parables that all the folks could relate to and understand.  The choir, his ‘followers’ were his disciples who received a different kind of teaching.

I wonder how Jesus would persuade today’s crowd at the mount. What ‘is like‘ parables would he use to cut through the noise of all the messages populating the universe so that they would hear and understand. Would he have a social media presence?  A different message for the non-churched than what one might hear in church services where his followers would gather?

It might look like an Instagram post with a hashtag attached.

‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’

‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’

I hope not.  Though I use the juxtaposition of image and text to send out a Word from my own Instagram account, I am aware that the expression is more about me than anyone who might see or ‘hear’ my posts. My posts are more about observations of God’s presence in the world than persuasions or arguments to point the anonymous world out there to the realm of God.

The way we communicate with one another today is troubling.  Preacher preaching to the choir – talking at believers in short, stylized quips.  Politicians doing the same. Environmentalists preaching at their choir. Feminists preaching at theirs.  Everyone just talking at one another and no one is hearing what anyone is saying.

No one is really interested, truth be told. Seems, rather, all we are interested in is letting our followers know what we think or believe, what we have observed and concluded.  We don’t engage in dialogue – we pontificate.  These are my values  – they should be yours. Whatever our experience is of this or that we seem eager only to make it known. And tied to this is the subtext that my experience is the way it-something-anything is. And in so doing utterly fail at being heard, let alone understood.

No one told me childbirth is like a boxing match!  Getting older is nothing like I expected!

Jesus’ messages and teachings tapped into the experiences of the hearers. That was the starting point, the common ground.  He didn’t talk at the people, he enjoined them in a conversation, encouraging them to ask more, want more, imagine more with him.

And he started his teachings by honoring their experiences and particularities: “This  – heaven, God our Father, love – is like this thing you know and are familiar with – only better, much better.”

Jesus was heard. Such a simple thing and yet how hard to remember and use.  Grateful for the reminder from today’s readings.

Praise God.

Friday Daily Office Readings: AM Psalm 31; PM Psalm 35
Prov. 23:19-21,29-24:2; 1 Tim. 5:17-22(23-25); Matt. 13:31-35

 

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