24 March, Friday – To listen is to love

24 March 2017


Hosea 14:2-10
The Lord says this:
Israel, come back to the Lord your God;
your iniquity was the cause of your downfall.
Provide yourself with words
and come back to the Lord.
Say to him, ‘Take all iniquity away
so that we may have happiness again
and offer you our words of praise.
Assyria cannot save us,
we will not ride horses any more,
or say, “Our God!” to what our own hands have made,
for you are the one in whom orphans find compassion.’
– I will heal their disloyalty,
I will love them with all my heart,
for my anger has turned from them.
I will fall like dew on Israel.
He shall bloom like the lily,
and thrust out roots like the poplar,
his shoots will spread far;
he will have the beauty of the olive
and the fragrance of Lebanon.
They will come back to live in my shade;
they will grow corn that flourishes,
they will cultivate vines
as renowned as the wine of Helbon.
What has Ephraim to do with idols any more
when it is I who hear his prayer and care for him?
I am like a cypress ever green,
all your fruitfulness comes from me.
Let the wise man understand these words.
Let the intelligent man grasp their meaning.
For the ways of the Lord are straight,
and virtuous men walk in them,
but sinners stumble.
Mark 12:28-34
One of the scribes came up to Jesus and put a question to him, ‘Which is the first of all the commandments?’ Jesus replied, ‘This is the first: Listen, Israel, the Lord our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You must love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.’ The scribe said to him, ‘Well spoken, Master; what you have said is true: that he is one and there is no other. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself, this is far more important than any holocaust or sacrifice.’ Jesus, seeing how wisely he had spoken, said, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And after that no one dared to question him any more.

I will heal their disloyalty, I will love them with all my heart… it is I who hear his prayer and care for him.

There seems to be a common thread in the readings all week – that of listening to God. It got me wondering why we are constantly being reminded to listen, and why this call is so relevant even today.

What are we listening out for?

When we are told to listen or pay attention, does our reflex guide us into a defensive stance, anticipating a scolding or rebuke? This can happen in many relationships (between couples, parent-child, work) where familiarity has sadly bred contempt. Some may even experience this reaction towards the commands of God. Perhaps this is set up by previous experiences of hurt and disappointment, maybe we have grown up hearing more often the wrathful stories of a punishing God, that it is hard to imagine hearing anything sweet and soothing when told to pay attention and listen.

In the first reading of Hosea today, God is speaking tenderly to his people who have turned from him in disloyalty. We get a glimpse of our image of God when we read these words and recognize our interior reactions. Does it feel hard to visualize a loving God? Do you read with some distance and a little disbelief? Are you moved and comforted deeply by the assurances of God who says: I will love you with all my heart? To truly listen without judgment and defense, is to genuinely allow our hearts to connect with the one who speaks.

What are you listening out for when God is trying to speak His love to you? Will you let Him have the space and time to tell you how much He cares for you?

To listen is to heal

Sometimes we don’t really listen. We just hear what we think is being spoken. So if a wife tells her husband, “I wish you wouldn’t spend so much time watching TV/on your mobile phone/out with friends,” he may hear “she’s nitpicking on me and telling me how to spend my precious leisure time,” instead of “I wish you would spend more time connecting with me.”

When we read God’s words in scripture: Repent and turn away from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations (Eze 14:6, 1 Jn 5:12, etc), we may think we hear His booming and fearsome voice commanding us to give up everything and turn to Him. The responsibility to listen intentionally and openly lies with the listener. Sometimes it is easier to hear the literal words when it coincides with our presumptions about someone or the nature of the relationship. But to listen humbly is to heal relationships, and to heal the false impressions we might have of the other.

Do I listen carefully to God’s merciful and deep love for me that is layered beneath all of His commandments and laws? Do I give God the space to be Himself in our relationship, instead of imposing my own ideas and defenses upon His words?

Only when we listen, can we speak wisely.

In yesterday’s gospel reading (Lk 11:14-23), we witnessed the crowds testing and challenging Jesus’ authority and words. They asked questions to cast doubt, with no intention of listening to the Living Word. However, the scribe today listened intently to Jesus’ answer that the greatest commandment to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength… and to love your neighbour as yourself.’ He was therefore able to respond wisely that to follow this commandment, was ‘far more important than any holocaust or sacrifice.’ The scribe understood the deeper meaning of the law of love, which underpinned all the Laws. It is only when we listen, that we can speak wisely and with love.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant me the patience to listen with humility and love. Grant me the restraint to withhold judgment and self-defenses.

Thanksgiving: I give thanks for the gift of those who have spent time truly listening to me and getting to know me for who I am.

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