A Listening Ear

July 13 2014 version (see other versions below)


On Friday last, I heard a surgeon at work in an operating theatre, explaining as he worked to a resident doctor present there.  It was a kind of mentoring process, of a kind that exists in many fields whether law, education, the trades of plumbing, electrician and many other fields.

Being teachable, being a good listener resonates with our gospel reading because of the last line Mt 13:23… that the good ground received the word and bears fruit.  it is yet another of the many occasions where the wisdom words of Jesus relate to ordinary life, for we all want ourselves, our children, and our colleagues to be people that know how to listen and learn from others at work or on the playing field.

It makes sense in relationships too–how good and healthy it is to listen well to our children, spouses, parents and others.  How bad and dangerous if we are opinionated and love only the sound of our own voices.

So our gospel wants us to be people who can listen well.  St. Benedict of Nursia (480-543 or 547) whom we remembered last week began his community Rule with the same point: that a member of the community must first of all be a person who knows how to listen.


St. Benedict’s community rule led a social reordering that began from Subiaco and Monte Cassino in Italy with tiny groups of Christians in community, and enabled the nations of Europe to overcome rampant selfishness, widespread social chaos, and massive disease.

St Benedict, our OT reading (Isa 55:10-13), and our Gospel parable this morning, all urge us to listen to God, respect one another, and refuse to gratify ourselves. From the first word of Benedict’s rule, throughout that rule, his word is ‘Listen’: listen to God, and respect one another.  When we listen for God’s word, like a seed into good ground, that word germinates into a call in each of us.


After some centuries of the industrial era, whether there has been any progress is questionable.  One out three children in the world is hungry. We live in an era in which Adam Smith turned greed into a global religion.  In some places at least, life expectancy is lower than it was in the time of Jesus.

In this region, for every 10 people, only 2 people go to join with God’s people to worship God and listen for God’s word in their lives.

Were just a proportion of the money spent on military arms to go on education (including young girls equally), to go on health, and to go on subsistence needs, this world would be a far better place.

As it is, through the last century divisions and violence keep growing, children are neglected, hunger grows, and lives shorten.

This is not the first or only time in history that we see a small percentage of humanity endowed with massive resources, while the many can barely eat.  As before in history, massively unequal distribution of wealth is not a sign of progress, but rather, is a sign of social decline.   If there is revolt, then it is now not from the masses, but rather, from the planet Earth itself.

We are like a placid frog being consumed by a snake, feet first, the frog anaesthetized by poison.  The body progresses down the throat of the snake, until the lights go out.


In this ‘new dark age’, how can we discover God’s call in our lives? From our “Parable of the Sower”, and the words of St Benedict, the first thing is that “good ground” is the person that reads and studies God’s word, is receptive to God’s word, and what is taught to us in and through God’s word. It is only after we refuse to absorb God’s word (in Mt 13:19) that the evil one snatches the word away! The evil one only does what we allow.  Mt 13:13 shows that we are each responsible for discerning God’s call in our life.  When we ‘having ears, hear, and listen’ then we can hear God’s call.

Secondly, the shape of our call comes not in a flash of time, but (from St. Benedict) it comes through an apprenticeship within the community of faith.  One example of this is a spiritual director.  Have you thought of having a spiritual companion or director?

Thirdly, our call emerges through our permanent, unswerving commitment through trial and persecution.

Fourth, our call emerges when we resist “choking weeds”.  The ‘choked up’ life is ‘intensively crowded or overshadowed’.  A person who knows their call lives in an uncluttered and focused way.

In sum, this parable and St Benedict teach me that I uncover God’s call to me, the meaning of my life, and my fruit, when:

* I read, mark, learn, contemplate and listen to God’s word—especially with my family,  children and grandchildren at home

* I focus in a simple and uncluttered way on the love of God and of my neighbor

* I ‘apprentice’ myself to hear and respond to God’s call and to serve God’s people. I could work with a spiritual companion or director, for example

* I am unswerving in trusting God in the face of persecution and suffering.


When we light a small candle in our lives, like the small candle that St Benedict lit is his dark age, that light will spread.  When the wars grind to their futile end, and when the way of selfish greed has blown out, the way of love will still stand, and we will see our light come. As we read in Isa 55, this is God’s word and victory, and nothing can withstand it.


Let us pray: Lord open my ear to hear your word, that my life may become as a candle in a dark place.  I pray that I and those around me may find our path home to you.  Use me, and may your reign come, may your just rule come, may your good rule come, in which all people live in peace.

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