Reflections from the Pulpit: Caught not listening or paying attention!

When telling me about her daughter, one mother complained to me “She never listens!” I made a suggestion: “Ask her to tell you what you just said to her.” She did, and it caused the daughter to have to pay attention. It also cost me a small friend, judging by the look I got from the daughter when I made the suggestion.

Some of the linguists tell us that much of our verbal communication is redundant. We have only to catch key words in a phrase and get the meaning of it while many parts are mentally filled in by the listener. There is also the possibility of missing something but we are able to get the gist of what is sent to us.

Many years ago I had a teacher that calmed his unruly class by speaking softly when the noise level got to an unacceptable level. He’d start speaking softly about “free” and “gifts” and “no cost to you” and pretty soon everyone was paying attention. In an almost-whispered tone, he’d tell people about something that caused them to perk up and “listen with both ears.” Usually the “free gift” was something like enjoying a sunset or taking a drink from the drinking fountain; but those words were a little softer.

Today there seems to be an “information overload” and I hear salespersons who must go home with hoarse voices at night shouting about their products and great deals. It makes me tune out. I am “blessed” with a mute button on my TV remote and use it when I want to watch something to relax instead of becoming hyper.

My moments of reassurance come when I find today’s problems taking place centuries ago. The Bible tells us “There is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9)” and I find many variations on a theme but nothing new time and again. We have many wonderful innovations that let us communicate, but we still don’t always hear.

Jesus had the same problem! He had just healed a boy thought to be dead (Mark 9:27) and passed through Galilee to teach His disciples (Mark 9:30). His sharing brought disappointing news to those who were following. “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands and they will kill Him, and three days after being killed, He will rise again (Mark 9:31).”

There are two kinds of human tragedies; those that are a part of the natural order and those that are man-made. People suffer from hurricanes, accidents, fatal diseases, losses due to forces well beyond their control; natural events that are nobody’s fault, nor do they come from anything caused by others.

Other tragedies are what people do to each other; killing and betrayal, robbing and violence, withholding things that give life and denying the humanity of others. These are more painful; they may be preventable but people choose to do otherwise.

Jesus tells His disciples that he will be betrayed and be killed (v. 31), but in spite of it all, He will rise again. Mark reports that “They did not understand what He was saying and they were afraid to ask Him (v.32). His words, though, were rather straightforward and direct; “betrayed into human hands”…”killed” but also “rise again.” Weren’t the disciples paying attention? Apparently not.

Jesus would ask them “What were you arguing about on the way? (v.33).” No, they were not paying attention, they were arguing among themselves about something else. Mark tells us “They were silent, for they discussed with one another who was the greatest (v.34).” Jesus was sharing something intimate, personal, tragic but was not heard. Instead, preoccupation with a worldly care (“who’s going to be the greatest?”) was foremost in their minds.

Jesus did not rebuke them or correct them; instead He told them about innocence and purity, about simplicity and hope. He took a living example of what it takes, a child. He tells them “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all (v.35)” and then “whoever receives one such child in my name, receives me, receives not me but Him who sent me (v. 37).” All of the struggling to be first or the most important will be of no account.

One of my youth groups had a poster in the room where we met. It was a picture of rats scurrying around in all sorts of different directions. Underneath was a caption; “Even if you win the rat race, you’re still only a rat!” The message: Think about where you run, seek real values, listen to what is being said among all of the noises and distractions, have God-given values and life will fall into place. Win where it matters to win.

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