Fifteenth Sunday of Trinity
Readings: Isaiah 50, 4-9a; Psalm 116,1-8; James 3,1-12; Mark 8, 27-end
Some of you might have seen the fifteenth century Schoellenbach altar in Erbach, but I wonder if you remember the finely carved curved cloth near the ear of the dying Mary? It is there to receive her soul, for dying people’s soul was believed to leave the body through the ear.
Odd to give such place to the ear, the sense of hearing? In that along with touch it is the sense which commonly leaves the dying person last, no. Our readings today stress the important of hearing, from Isaiah’s ‘morning by morning he wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught,’ to the psalm for today: ‘I love the Lord because he heard my voice and my supplications.’ God awakens my ear so it can respectfully, lovingly, hear and heed other people.
The brain has two functions: to hear, which is automatic if the capacity is there, and to listen to what is said, hearing and taking it in, not grabbing the words which are key for the listener, perhaps not the speaker, and rushing on, to ‘put the other right.’ True, in daily life, we often listen with half an ear – ‘she’s still talking about work… he’s telling a story about his children again’ – as we carry on our own inner conversation with the rest of our mind space. However, some speech is not just to fill silence or transmit information but, clouded with uncertainty, is expressing troubled thoughts, painful ideas, in words, in words not said, in silences. Hearing such speech means paying respectful attention to the whole gifting of the speaker and taking the whole in.
Responding correctly to Jesus question ‘who am I’ with ‘the Messiah,’ Peter couldn’t accept what he then heard. The Messiah for Peter was to be a powerful King liberating the country from obvious oppression, whereas what he was hearing was a Messiah who was to suffer, and to die. Being Peter, he waded in with two left feet to put Jesus straight, to tell him what he ‘should have said’, to tell him what he wanted to hear. How common is that! Peter heard, but he didn’t listen, and wasn’t willing to understand the words, the words between the lines, the silences: Peter put Jesus straight, rejecting what he was saying.
In accepting the collective and individual responsibility of the priesthood of all believers, as I trust we do, we are all pastors, we all have ears, and all should be ready to listen attentively. As old Lutheran friend in Australia once said: ‘I don’t mind if my pastor doesn’t do a perfect exegesis of Job: I want a pastor who listens when I am in need.’ We all want that, and with attentive respect we can offer that. But in this season of James, once we have listened, and understood, what then? If we hear, take in and accept, we have to stand up – for ‘those who are ashamed of me and my words’ will be seen as objects of shame. Listen to descriptions of poverty, injustice, homelessness with fleeting sentimental empathy, feeling for and turning away…how does that fit with the works of love for God and our neighbour?
e.koepping@ed.ac.uk

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