|Mary Weber ARCWP and Annie Watson, ARCWP|
Annie Watson, ARCWP
An elderly man thinking his wife was losing her hearing went about 20’ behind her and asked “Can you hear me sweetheart?” No reply. Moved to 10’ and inquired again. No reply. 5’ and not a word. A few inches behind her ear, he asked “Can you hear me now honey?” His wife said, “For the fourth time, yes!”
This little joke makes me wonder, “Who is it that’s not listening?” Most people tend to think that they themselves are the ones who are listening. Most of us see ourselves as attentive, ears to the ground, attuned people. It’s all those other people out there who aren’t listening to us! If they would only listen they would see things our way and everything would be great!
I’m talking about evangelism. “Evangelism” is an interesting word. It contains the word “angel,” a word that means “messenger.” So to practice evangelism is to be a messenger of good news. We have some good news to share, do we not? All we need are people who will hear what we have to say.
This is what is happening in Mark 6. Jesus had some good news to share with his hometown people, and then he sends his disciples out, two by two, to share (and practice) some good news. That’s great! If we have something worth sharing with others, we should.
My only criticism of this is the assumption that all the sharing should come from one direction. The people should listen to Jesus and his disciples. Nothing is mentioned about Jesus and his disciples hearing what the people have to say.
The story is familiar: Jesus goes to his hometown of Nazareth, he gives a good sermon, the people are “astounded,” but then they begin to question how someone they have known their whole lives, who comes from a family they have known forever, could actually have something meaningful to say to them. It all seems so condescending. After they think about it for a moment, the crowd begins to “take offense” at him.
At this point Jesus utters one of his most famous quotes, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house (where they were also refusing to hear him).” This is a universal truth. I am under no illusion that if I went back to Danville, Kentucky and started sharing homilies things would go well for me.
I would not be honored as a prophet in my hometown. They would treat me like a bad cold. They know me too well, or at least they think they do, and so there is no way their pride would allow me—of all people—to share the good news with them, not without close scrutiny and criticism.
After things didn’t work out so well in his hometown, Jesus decides to send out his followers, two by two, on an evangelistic mission, sharing the good news of the kin-dom of God, delivering people from “unclean spirits” and healing the sick. Again, the assumption is that the people should listen to his disciples, and not the other way around.
Jesus says, “If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” I get that. After all, Jesus was sending his disciples out to the surrounding villages with a clear cut message. If and when we have something to share that we sincerely believe everyone should hear, we become rather enthusiastic about it.
These days the easiest way to get one’s message out there is through social media. It has become a forum for people who feel like they have something important to say. It probably makes us feel more important than we really are. If more than a dozen or so people hit “like” on something we write we fool ourselves into thinking that we have really contributed something awesome to the world.
In some ways, the readings this week feed into our haughty attitudes, our feelings of superiority, and our false assumptions that people should just listen to us (and not the other way around). The story in Mark’s gospel feeds into our narcissistic belief that people should stop everything they are doing and hear what we have to say.
If they don’t we should just shake the dust off our feet (although I have to admit, it is unlikely that I would go share the good news of Jesus Christ with someone who lives on a dirt road. That’s just asking for trouble!).
Few of us consider ourselves prophets, but the reading from the book of Ezekiel also feeds into our sense of self-importance. According to Ezekiel, God spoke to him and sent him to the people of Israel, “to a nation of rebels” (which does not mean they were Confederate flag-waving Southerners, by the way, but they were rebellious). God tells Ezekiel these rebellious Israelites were “impudent and stubborn.” Because of that, they are unlikely to accept what Ezekiel has to say to them.
God says to Ezekiel, “Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.” God then tells Ezekiel not to be afraid of them no matter what they say or how menacing they look.
So here’s our problem, and here’s how I think these stories need to be heard in a different light, or at least with a caveat in mind: What if we are the ones who are refusing to listen? What if we are the ones with the menacing look?
Maybe today is as good a time as any to consider that we need to put our ears to the ground and that listening to other voices wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Like no other time in history there are plenty of opportunities to hear what others have to say.
We are bombarded with new information and messages every day. Some of it is actually good news, if not prophetic. We often hear very prophetic stuff outside the church. Yesterday, on Independence Day, we were reminded of “liberty and justice for all,” and hopefully we heard those words with fresh ears in the aftermath of what happened in South Carolina, and in light of the Supreme Court’s decision about marriage equality.
So yes, the church is potentially a wonderful herald of good news, and yet our voice isn’t the only voice out there. Even as we feel we are not being heard, we need to remember that there are many people today in many parts of the world who feel they are never heard: the voices of historically marginalized people, the voices of children, the elderly, the poor, the disabled, etc.
Evangelism should not just be a one-way street; it should be a two-way street. Before we stop to shake the dust off of our feet because someone refuses to hear what we have to say, let’s try hearing what they have to say first.