Hear my voice

A few years ago there was a programme on Channel 4 called Priest Idol. In which a priest was invited to take on a parish just outside Barnsley that was in a poor state. Channel 4 hired some  professional marketing consultants to help with improving the church’s performance. Fr James McCaskill, who was from the USA and  had a southern drawl rather like the actor James Stewart had been recruited as parish priest You could see that when he began his sermons, people soon appeared to switch off. The marketing people observed stand-up comedians were popular in the working men’s clubs. They brought in a comedian to help Fr James with his delivery that if he was preaching, he would begin by saying, ‘do you know I was walking down the street today, and I saw this woman, and you’ll never guess what she said to me…..’ And the people would be curious to know what that was, they would be interested, he would have their attention, and they would listen to him.

'Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear,' says Jesus. Jesus, the Word of God, needs to be heard. Some refused to hear what he had to say, the scribes and pharisees blocked their ears to him, they did not want to understand. Some heard him out of curiosity, but his words made no impression on them. Others listened but could not understand him. The disciples heard what he said but many times they could not understand his meaning, much to Jesus’ frustration. Only a few really listened and understood and took his words to heart.

The healing of the deaf man by Jesus has importance beyond that of enabling one man to hear and speak. It is followed shortly after in Mark’s gospel by the healing of blind Bartimaeus. Both healings are symbolic of the importance of listening to and perceiving the Word of God. The command of Jesus to 'be opened', is for our ears too. 

In the Book of the Prophet Isaiah the coming of the kingdom is heralded by the deaf hearing and the dumb speaking. Isaiah had been commissioned with a futile task to speak the word of God to people who would hear but never understand, who would see but never perceive.

In the Book of Common Prayer, The Collect for the Second Sunday of Advent asks that we may hear the scriptures, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them. It asks that we might treat the scripture like food that it might have a beneficial effect on our lives. We hear with our ears, but we must listen closely to understand them with our minds, that the Word of God might truly take effect in our lives. To Jesus, hearing the Word of God and doing what it commands are inseparable.

Holidaymakers staying on the island of Kos, have been distressed by the cries of distress of migrants whose boats have capsized in the sea. Some Italian tourists sleeping on a yacht, heard such cries in the early hours of the morning and went to the rescue of the occupants of an inflatable craft which had been thrown onto the rocks.  14 other boats moored nearby must also have heard the cries but did not move.

We can easily turn deaf in the west to the plight of refugees. We hear their testimony on the radio or the television and it might occupy our minds for a moment, but we soon forget them. If we heard their cries from our bedroom windows at night would we then do something?

Then something happens which penetrates to the heart. The body of three year old Aylan Kurdi was carried tenderly by a Turkish policeman and a photographer took photoes. He said that he wished that there was no problem in their country, that they had not left Syria and tried to leave Turkey, that he had not taken the photographs, but he said all he could do was take these photographs to be their voice.

If we were in their position, if we refugees, what would we cry out for, what would we hope that those in the prosperous west would hear?  There are no easy answers to this problem. How we respond to this crisis, is not just a matter for the government, it is a concern for the conscience of each individual. Our incapacity to solve the bigger distant problems should not prevent us from making a contribution to give some assistance, however small.

Jesus calls us to  listen to the voice of the Gospel and to the voice of those around us, especially those in need. To be good listeners, we need to be attentive and listen with an open heart.

 

Isaiah 35:4-7; Mark 7:31-37