Scripture for this Sunday:
1 Kings 8.22-23,41-43 (Solomon dedicates the temple); Psalm 96.1-9; Galatians 1.1-12; Luke 7.1-10 (Jesus heals a Roman Centurion’s slave)
My Spanish teacher has worked out that what I need to work on is my ability to listen and understand in Spanish. I can read the written word and understand reasonably well; I can, with a little patience, write without having to look up too many words in dictionaries. But speaking – and listening – still need work.
We have become increasingly dependent upon visual input (images, written word) to interact with the world around us, than upon oral input (what is spoken, or read aloud). However, listening is an important part of faith, and the obedience that is an attitude of listening attentively for and to the voice of truth.
The word obedience has its roots in obaudiens, Latin for listening intently. Obedience inspires a life of listening for and to the voice of the living God amidst the clamour of the world around us.
In the midst of a Jewish culture that struggled to protect itself from an abrasive, gentile, occupying force, Jesus was confronted with a request from an iconic symbol of Roman oppression: a Centurion. Yet here was a man who had listened intently to what went on around him, engaging with the community, hearing about the special nature of Jesus, moved in a situation of need to seek help. And Jesus commended him for his faith. Healing took place. Boundaries were transcended.
This confronts us with questions about our relationships with those who are “other” than us, different from us. Who are the outsiders? Whom would we (unlike Jesus) send away? Who might be listening better than we do? Who are the ones in whom we might find goodness if we remove the scales of prejudice from our eyes? To whom might we listen intently?
Jesus evidently also listened intently, finding a truth that brought him outside the closed circle of his culture. He might have drawn upon the precedent of Solomon, who, in dedicating the temple he had built, asked God to hear not just the people of Israel, but all who were drawn to the presence of God.
Gaining attention is not always easy in a distracting world. The writer, Roald Dahl, sought to gain the reading attention of a TV-viewing audience by using special words that he concocted. Jesus sought to gain attention by pointing to the exemplary faith of a surprising outsider.
God invites us to listen intently to all voices, with the opportunity to turn our differences into a source of enrichment, and to make a difference in the world around us.