Deeper Listening

Over the last two weeks you might have noticed that when I have a chance to pause, contemplate and write, my thoughts have turned to the prophets. In part inspired by the daily Mass readings which have included Amos (last week), Hosea (this week just finishing), with the coming weeks bringing Isaiah, Micah and Jeremiah. In all of the writings of these prophets you will come across passages in which the prophet lament/accuses the people about their inability/refusal to listen, to hear. It is easy to just assume that the the prophet is lamenting that they are ignoring him, but the lament is far more reaching in its scope. The prophets has no doubt that he has been heard – the scriptures testify to the persecution they suffer because of the words they have spoken. The auditory capability of the people is not in question.

It is not a lament limited to the OT prophets. This coming Sunday’s gospel we encounter Jesus responding to the apostles: “This is why I speak to them in parables, because they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand. Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and be converted, and I heal them. (Matthew 13:14-15, referring to Isaiah 6:9) There are 43 similar verses in the Hebrew scriptures in which Israel is accused of not listening.

The word for “listen, hear” in Hebrew is shema – the daily prayer of all faithful people of the Jewish faith: “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength“. (Dt 6:4-5).  The prayer takes its name from the first word “hear” or “listen” – and that simple word is deep and complex.

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