Ears to Hear (A Reflection on Mark 4.1-20)

The Gospel appointed for today is the Parable of the Sower as it’s recorded in the Gospel according to Mark. At the end of the parable, Jesus says, “He who has ears, let him hear.” I remember this line striking me when I first went on my Bible-reading binge when I was nineteen, and it’s never really left me. Having ears to hear and eyes to see has become one of my go-to turns of phrase to describe the kind of attitude and disposition we are to cultivate in the world.

In the context of the parable, there’s a double meaning. Internally to the message of the parable, Jesus is encouraging those listening to hear, to be receptive to the Gospel, like soft, fertile soil is to a farmer’s seeds. Externally, it’s also a stern warning to his listeners: hearing and understanding truth isn’t for everyone, but only to those who have the capacity to do so. It’s an important message for the life of faith. No matter how much we know or how long we’ve been on our faith journey, there is always still more to learn. As Fr. Alexander Men would point out,  Christianity is still in its infancy and that “we are still Neanderthals in spirit and morals.” With the Gospel we are always at the beginning, always needing to hear afresh the words of Jesus: words of love, humility, grace, forgiveness, and joy. (Those who have ears, let them hear.)

But this is more than just about hearing the Gospel. It’s about our disposition to the world. Do we have ears to hear and eyes to see what’s really going on around us? Or are we shut off, closed minded and closed hearted? (Recognizing that the metaphors I’m working with, while beautiful and powerful, are also inherently ableist, let’s plainly state that it has nothing to do with our eyes and ears and everything to do with our minds and hearts.) As a white man, am I receptive to hearing the experiences of women and people of colour, even when — especially when — they contradict my own experiences of society? As a Canadian, am I receptive to understanding the injustice against indigenous peoples that continues to exist, not as a glitch in the system but as the System itself? As a comfortable Westerner, am I receptive to hearing the warnings of our changing climate? And, understanding all these things, am I strong enough to change my way of life accordingly? (Those who have ears, let them hear.)

As with most things in life, it isn’t a simple matter of yes or no. We don’t either have ears to hear or we don’t. We can — we must — cultivate this disposition as a skill. I’m still not remotely as good at this as I’d like to be, but I know I’m better at it than I used to be. Some things that have helped me cultivate seeing eyes and listening ears include:

  • Listening practice;
  • Going to a public place and writing down everything I see and hear; and
  • Articulating an opposing perspective fairly and honestly before trying to refute it.

These things are never easy. It takes hard work and a lot of grace. And we all stumble at this more often than we’d like. But the benefits — spiritually, culturally, relationally, socially, intellectually — are well worth it. And the alternative is living in an easy, comfortable, private delusion, and I would hope none of us would ultimately want that.

May God grant us all ears to hear, and eyes to see: receptive hearts and minds preferring challenging truths to easy falsehoods.

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