There’s a difference between hearing and listening. Webster defines hear as to perceive or become aware of by the ear, to gain knowledge of by hearing, to listen with attention. We hear the thunder’s crack and it startles us. The cooing of a baby gathers memories and may make us smile. We hear folks as we speak together. We even say, “I hear what you’re saying”, but the question remains whether we understand or not.
Listen, on the other hand, is defined this way: to pay attention to sound, to hear something with thoughtful attention, to give consideration, to be alert to catch an unexpected sound. We listen to good music and a good story. We listen to the birds and distinguish between the songs of a mourning dove and a red-winged blackbird. We listen to someone giving us directions (when our GPS is out of range), in order to know where we are and how to get to where we want to be. We listen to someone in their grief, joy, or perplexity so we might be present with them and attempt to understand them. We listen because we want to know someone. To listen to someone is a sign of respect, and dare I say, love.
To hear is in many ways a passive experience. To listen is to pay attention with purpose and intent to what we hear so we might consider and understand what we are hearing. It is something we decide to do. That’s why we talk about being an active listener.
Luke’s gospel tells the story of Jesus’ encounter with two folks on their way home from Jerusalem on the evening of the Resurrection (Luke 24:13-35). Jesus approaches the two but they didn’t recognize him. For who would imagine that they were talking with someone raised from the dead? Jesus is attentive. He notices that they are engaged in an intense conversation. He desires to know what they’re concerned about, so he asks, “What is this you are discussing so intently as you walk along?” Perhaps they look at this stranger in disbelief: could he be the only person in Jerusalem that doesn’t know what happened? Jesus picks up on this. Crucifixions were not uncommon at the time. What was so important to them about this one? So Jesus asks a clarifying question, “What’s happened?”
As they now walk along together Jesus listens hard to what they are saying. He gets their perspective on what has taken place. He gathers a sense of their dreams and vision for Israel. He feels the weight of their despair as their hope was buried in a tomb along with the hoped-for messiah. The perplexity in their voices is clear as they share the rumor of a dead Jesus now alive.
In caring for and loving these two lost souls, by listening intently to what they were saying, Jesus learned something about them: they were followers of Jesus and had completely misunderstood what God’s messiah was to be. So he chides them, perhaps with a disarming smile, and speaks to their experience in a different light. Their story of despair, now re-interpreted by scripture with Jesus’s help, becomes a witness to the grace and love of God.
Jesus does the very same for us. Because Jesus loves us, he listens to us. He understands who we are, right now, in this moment, in this place. He can weave our fear and waning hope into stories that lift our eyes to the life surrounding us, the life within us. When we listen to others, we can bet Jesus is listening too. When we listen intently to others, we might get a glimpse of their full humanity and learn something about Jesus’s love for them . . . . and us.
Make the call. Write the card. Zoom in, FaceTime, whatever; just let someone know you want to listen, and so does Jesus.
In the name of Jesus Christ who is with us in these scary, yet hopeful times.