“Listen and Understand” Matthew 15:10-28


“Then he called the crowds to him and said to them, “Listen and understand:”

          There is a lot to cover in this scripture passage, but I really have not yet gotten past first sentence.

          “Listen and understand:” Jesus says.

          It seems to me that we have a significant deficit of listening in our world right now, and I’m not entirely sure why.

          There are several possibilities.

          It might be because the world has simply gotten so noisy that our hearing is affected.  

I can remember what it was like to spend hours on a noisy tractor, the drone of the diesel, or the “pop-pop-pop” of the two cylinder John Deere.  I remember how after a full day of listening to that you could still hear it as you laid in bed at night.   (Probably the first contributing factors to my own hearing loss.)  

          Too much noise makes you numb to sound and therefore incapable of listening.  

We do live in a very noisy world, and it has affected our ability to listen.  We hear only what we have been hearing all day long, living in the echo chambers of our own immediate experiences.  Our ears have been tuned to only take in certain sources, certain ideas and certain concepts and so we block out all the rest.

All we hear is what we are used to hearing.  The call to “listen and understand:” from Jesus is lost on us.

          Or, perhaps we have a deficit of listening because of entrenched positions and understandings.   

I’m struck in this passage by how the disciples asked if Jesus knew that the Pharisees had taken offense at his words, as if Jesus didn’t pick up on their displeasure?

How often do we trip land mines with our own comments?  Say something that we are not even aware will be taken as offensive by someone else?   

          Once the offensive phrase is spoken, you know, listening seems to end and understanding becomes elusive.

          Utter the phrase, for instance “Black Lives Matter” and watch the reactions.

          I do not always know how that phrase will be received by any given audience.  

Some will be glad to hear it and find in it an opening to conversation and a way of exploring the issues surrounding us today.

Others will hear that and take offense, and counter with “All Lives Matter!”

Once the sense of offense has been tripped, listening and understanding are again, just not going to happen. 

When Jesus says of the Pharisees, “They are blind guides to the blind”–that  is not meant so much as a condemnation of them as it is a description of functionality.  

For you see, once opinions are hardened and fully formed they are very difficult to cut through or to challenge.  

That’s a part of our deficit of listening these days too, the same one that Jesus describes here.   Once you start down a road, make up your mind, you are going to end up at that road’s inevitable end.   “The pit” if you will — because a hardened opinion cannot be overcome. 

Listening has been shut down.

Understanding is not possible without the ability to weigh or entertain the various sides and nuances of an argument, or of a matter, or of a situation.

We have a deficit of listening in our world right now for another reason, and that is because we are dismissive.

That’s the hardest part of reading this Gospel lesson today I think, recognizing how many times an attitude of dismissal seems to pervade the stories.

Jesus is dismissive of the offense taken by the Pharisees.  “They are blind guides to the blind.”

Jesus also seems to be dismissive of his own disciples when they ask about the meaning of the parable.   “Are you still without understanding?” he says.

The disciples are dismissive of this woman when she comes and shouts her urgent need.  “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” They say.

Jesus is again dismissive of the woman’s pleas for her daughter at first .. she’s not really who he is here for.   He says to her, “I was sent only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 

There is so much apparent dismissal going on here that it is exhausting!  

We feel that in our bones because we recognize that in our daily life as well, and it is exhausting to feel like our concerns are not being heard.

Our concerns are so often dismissed by those in power or authority.

Our objections to the way things are done are dismissed.

Our inquiries about matters are dismissed.

From the halls of congress to our latest disputed Amazon order, we are sent the message of dismissal.

“Oh, Let it go…”

“Elections have consequences…”

“It’s not that big a deal…”

“You just don’t see the bigger picture..”

“I can’t get worked up over your issues..”

Dismissal shuts down listening and sends the message there will be no understanding.   It will be “my way or the highway.”

“Listen and understand” it appears is something with which even Jesus struggles.   So where is the good news in all of this?

The good news is found in Jesus’ recognition and call for us to “Listen and understand” even when it is so hard to do, and so much is stacked against it.

It is still what he urges us to do even and especially because he finds it hard to do himself.

This is a part of the struggle of the human condition.  It’s all true.

We are prone to not listen.

We are products of our own echo chambers.

We are prone to narrow mindedness.

We are too often dismissive of others.

And yet the call of Jesus to us is to “Listen and Understand.”   That call sits out there as both promise and possibility, and every once in a while, it makes a difference and listening and understanding do become possible.

I look at this story again and I note a shift that takes place in it.

The woman did not get her needs met by shouting.

Jesus did not get rid of her pleas with his sharp words or dismissive phrases.

The Pharisees did not get their offenses noted with their disapproving looks, and the disciples did not change or affect anything with their objections or their comments.

The whole story shifts when the woman stops shouting and the disciples stop dismissing, and Jesus himself stops pontificating.

It all changes when the woman kneels and says, “Lord, help me.”

It is at that moment in this story that listening and understanding seem possible again, as she takes a posture before Jesus of submission and humility, and Jesus is himself then softened to hear her.

“Lord, help me.”  I can be tone deaf to the needs and concerns of this world, of my neighbor and so caught up in listening to what I’ve heard all day long that I am unable to listen or to understand.

“Lord, help me, I do get caught in my own echo chambers.

“Lord, help me, I am too often narrow minded and hard of heart.”

“Lord, help me” I can be so dismissive of others.

The trajectory of the whole passage changes when the knee is taken and the phrase, “Lord, help me” is spoken. – even for Jesus.

I look at the woman kneeling before Jesus and my mind immediately goes to another scene, in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus himself will take a knee before God and plead in a similar manner, “Lord, take this cup away from me…”  

It is another “Lord, help me” moment where listening and understanding becomes possible.

 Jesus does not get the answer he would like to hear. 

What he does get in confronting the difficult is the strength to see the difficult thing through to the end.

“Nevertheless not my will, but thine be done.”

Maybe that’s what we should be praying for as well, not for things to be taken away from us, but the strength to see some very difficult things through to their preferred, — to God’s preferred end.

“Listen and Understand” Jesus says today. 

That is an invitation and a possibility, but maybe one we will only find when we stop our shouting, give up our own looks of contempt and disapproval, our own taking of offense at things long enough to inquire of the will of God in these matters. Maybe listening and understanding only come when we take the knee and pray, “Lord, help me.”  

One thought on ““Listen and Understand” Matthew 15:10-28

  1. Pamela J Bergin says:

    Pastor, I have to admit that my first reaction to “Black lives matter” was…but all lives matter. That changed when I realized and saw the pain and hurt on their faces, especially the children! It was an AhHa moment for me and alI I could say, through tears, was Yes
    You Do Matter!

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