True hearing means receiving, accepting, understanding

  • June 27, 2008

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) July 13 (Isaiah 55:10-11; Psalm 65; Romans 8:18-23; Matthew 13:1-23)

The Word of God should not be confused with the written word. The latter is static and unchanging, while the Word of God is dynamic and never at rest until its mission is complete. We might describe the Word of God as God’s creative will and energy. It can be expressed in the created order — what we call nature — as well as in and through human history.

But creation, history and experience must be read, reflected on and understood. While it may seem that God is distant, we should not succumb to the temptation to view God as the celestial clockmaker. God does not wind up the clock and then walk away, nor does God interfere in human freedom. But God does have an ultimate purpose for the world and for humanity. Although this purpose can be delayed and resisted, God’s creative will — His Word — continues to operate in the background and will not be thwarted.

In his work Human Energy, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin expresses sentiments similar to the passage from Romans: “Something is afoot in the universe, a result is working out which can be best compared to a gestation and a birth: the birth of a new spiritual reality formed by souls and the matter they draw after them.” He meant that the universe is in a state of evolution and movement towards a distant goal — the divinization of matter. We are not separate from the rest of creation, we are not mere spectators. The redemption brought by Christ is not confined to human beings alone, but includes all of creation. A new world infused with the power and love of God was coming to birth and as with all births, it includes some pain and struggle. We focus so much on our own personal redemption and relationship with God that it is easy to lose sight of the big picture. The signs of the times call us to a more universal view — a focus on our planet and all of humanity together rather than exclusively on individuals and groups. If human beings and the created order are being divinized and drawn towards God then our actions and attitudes also must evolve and be renewed.

The immediate effectiveness of the Word of God is conditioned by the manner in which it is received. Hearing in the biblical sense has a different meaning than the mere physical act of perceiving sounds. True hearing means receiving, accepting and understanding. Jesus tells an enigmatic parable, but not in order to be coy. He is explaining why the seed of God’s Word, scattered so liberally and abundantly on all, has such uneven and varied results. Some are impervious to the power of the word for they lack all understanding. Others are enthusiastic and all seems well for a while, but they lack depth — they do not allow it to penetrate the deeper levels of their mind and heart.

Others lack staying power and commitment or become too caught up in the day-to-day struggles and busyness without the benefit of a spiritual understanding. Only those who have the inclination, openness and seeking heart to understand the inner meaning of divine teachings are transformed and renewed by its power. They are the ones who are graced with its abundant blessings and power.

Those who are open and spiritually astute will perceive the inner meaning of Jesus’ parable. Those who are not will probably shrug and walk away. In our own culture listening carefully and in a reflective manner is a rapidly dying art. Many people like their spiritual truths in black-and-white, easily managed packages, especially if it will not intrude too much in their day-to-day living. Plumbing the depths of God’s Word is impossible with narrow, literal or superficial interpretations. The Old Testament writers had an apt metaphor for how one should approach God’s Word: tasting and eating. It must nourish us and actually become part of who and what we are. Religious tepidity or indifference on the one hand and fanaticism on the other both stem from a superficial understanding of sacred principles. The solution is not authoritarianism, moralizing or conformity, but willingness to journey with humility and openness into the heart of God.