Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Devotional for the Twenty-Fifth Day of Lent

Who considers the power of your anger?
 Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due to you. 
So teach us to count our days 
that we may gain a wise heart. (Psalm 90:11-12)

For as the loincloth clings to one’s loins, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, says the Lord, in order that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory. But they would not listen. (Jeremiah 13:11)

“Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God.” The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon; but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is one who seeks it and he is the judge. Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.” (John 8:47-51)

When I was a kid I had a joke card that read, “I’m not hard of hearing, I’m just ignoring you.” I showed it to my aunt, and she insisted that I show it to my uncle. I did show it to him, but for some reason he didn’t think it was very funny. I have come to understand how he felt.

It’s one thing to miss something that has been said or to be unable to hear. It’s another thing to hear and then ignore. It appears that the people of God have a long history of hearing and then ignoring.

The psalmist is offering more than just words of wisdom. He speaks of the people of Israel living out their days in exile, suffering the consequences of their deafness toward God. The psalmist is a realist; he knows they will live one way or the other. They may as well immerse themselves in this new life in order to become wise. Perhaps it will also be a time to learn to listen.

Jeremiah also speaks of God’s lament over Israel’s unwillingness to listen to him. He offers a strange metaphor: His intention was that Israel would be like a loincloth—an undergarment that would cling closely to the skin and the intimate parts of the body. God’s desire was for his people to cling closely to him, to praise and honor him, and to express his glory to the world. Again, their hands were pressed over their ears.

Jesus, many years later, accuses his critics (again, the people of Israel) of not hearing God. Jesus revealed God’s heart for Israel and the world, bringing healing, life, rescue, and assurance of God’s love. The response of the dominant leadership of Israel was to suggest that Jesus was not really a Jew but, instead, a Samaritan (Jewish people did not think highly of Samaritans), and also that he was inhabited by demonic forces. Jesus reminds him that his way lines up with God’s eternal intentions. In that way is life. But the people seem to keep choosing death.

I’m not sure we’ve gotten a whole lot better at listening. Every time someone comes up with a way of looking at the Bible or thinking about God that challenges some dominant dogma, people start throwing around accusations of heresy, blasphemy, charlatanism, and so on. Usually these claims are made absent of any form of listening. Not every new idea is good, but the refusal to listen can be a symptom of a much deeper problem: Deafness to anything but our own self-created certainties.
We have to be very careful about this. I suspect that the people who refused to listen to the likes of Jeremiah and Jesus didn’t think they were shutting their ears to God, but they were. Having open ears doesn’t mean that all things are valid, but it does allow us to remain open to the possibility that we’ve gotten something wrong along the way. After all, we religious folks have a long history of getting things wrong.

Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
 but you have given me an open ear. (Psalm 40:6)

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