2nd Sunday of Epiphany (January 18 • 2015)
More Listening, Less Talking
1 Samuel 3:1-20
One day, someone asked Mother Theresa of Calcutta, India, “What do you say to God in your prayer?” Mother Theresa answered, “I don’t speak, I listen.”
How many times, in our prayers, do we choose to listen rather than talk? How many times do we seek what God wants us to do rather than telling God what we want?
Prayer should be more about listening and less about talking. We are created with two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as often as we speak.
Perhaps we need to learn from little Samuel. His ears were opened to Eli, his senior and predecessor. Each time his name was called, he came and said to Eli, “Here I am, for you called me.” Once he knew that it was God who had been calling him, he repeated Eli’s instruction by saying, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”
How many times have we said these words in our prayers? How many times have we said to God, “Speak Lord,” instead of, “Listen God”? No wonder that Jesus once said that only those who were like children who could enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:1-5). Little Samuel had the right kind of attitude that Jesus alluded.
What we need is indeed a heart like Samuel's; a heart of a humble servant; a heart that is open to God’s guidance; a heart that is prepared to put aside our selves so that God’s will be done in our life.
Like Samuel, we are called to be the beholders and listeners, not the speakers. We are called to be the students, not the teachers. We are called to be like Jewish disciples, sitting at the feet of their Rabbis. We are called to be learners all the days of our life.
One serious impediment to our growth as a person is the time when we think that we know everything. Because the moment we think that we know everything is the moment when we stop thinking, exploring, and experiencing new thing; and the moment we stop thinking, exploring, and experiencing new thing is the moment when we stop growing as a human being and as a follower of Christ.
A person with one of the greatest minds in human history, Albert Einstein, once said, “The more I learn, the more I realise how much I don’t know.” We are to have an attitude like the psalmist of our psalm reading today. He said in his psalm:
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end—I am still with you.
(Psalm 139:17-18 - NRSV)
Our assurance is found not in what we know about God, but in what God knows about us. We will fool ourselves if we only listen to ourselves; if we stop learning from God and listening to God’s voice.
Fortunately, we are not alone. One of Jesus’s disciples, Nathaniel, also began his journey by being a ‘fool’. He thought he ‘knew’ everything. He had developed his own map about the world and its people and believed that nothing could be added to his map. He was like a new scientist who believes that he knows everything about the universe because he has finished his university degree in science. When Philip invited Nathaniel to come and see Jesus, Nathaniel responded by saying, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” His world was a closed world.
Yet Nathaniel finally came and saw Jesus. He finally accepted the invitation, even though reluctantly. He finally showed the kind of openness that little Samuel had; perhaps not to the same degree, but openness nonetheless.
Just like in the popular image of Jesus, he was knocking on Nathaniel’s door, waiting to be invited in. Nathaniel treated the knock as a ‘noise’; Nathaniel though that he knew who had been waiting outside. Yet, he still opened the door a little bit, perhaps out of curiosity. There, he saw Jesus face to face, and he was transformed.
Openness is the main quality of a true disciple. To be disciples, we must truly open ourselves to what God is showing and telling us. But how can we truly open ourselves to God if we are fully occupied with ourselves.
A glass that is full cannot be filled with more water. To hear God’s voice, we also need to have enough room in our hearts. We are to be like clay, willing to be shaped by God, our potter. But clay that cannot be formed by its potter is not worth much; it will only be discarded. It will forever be clay and never be transformed into a beautiful pottery.
Abraham is a refugee from Sudan who has just recently arrived in Australia. When he first arrived in Australia, he only knew two words: ‘yes’ and ‘no’; and he often confused the two. Today, he is the Slam Poet Champion in Victoria and the third winner in the national competition. He is about to publish his second book and perform at Glastonbury festival. Yet he is still unable to find a secure job because of his background. He still won’t travel in the dark because he often becomes the subject of racism.
Nick comes from the opposite world. He was born and raised in Australia. He is one the founders of a minor political party that believes allowing African refugees like Abraham to come to Australia will only create problem. He believes that these refugees cannot assimilate; that they are a welfare drain and a burden to the economy; and that they have nothing to contribute to the society.
The two, however, decided not only to meet, but also to live in each other’s house. They agreed not only to see each other, but also to experience each other’s world. Abraham spent time with Nick's friends and vice versa. Despite their differences, they wanted to know the other person and learned more about him.
They were part of a reality program on SBS called, Living with the Enemy. The goal of the program is to challenge the participants' prejudices; to experience the other person as a person, not as an issue.
Some participants were changed in the process. Their prejudices were challenged and later modified by their contact with the other. Others, however, were not changed.
Their experience with the other only validated their prejudices before they joined the program. Some even become more entrenched in their opinions.
But it was not the producers’ intent or role to decide what would be the end result of the experiment. The program was an invitation to ‘experience’; to ‘come and see’; to ‘behold’ the other. No one was forced to form a certain opinion. Everyone was invited to experience and then to make his/her own decision.
At the very heart of the Gospel of John is the invitation for us to see Jesus; to experience him ourselves; and to believe in him. John closed his Gospel by saying:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may life in his name. (John 20:30-31 - NRSV)
We are all invited to be like the people in the Samaritan village where a woman spoke with Jesus at a well. After meeting Jesus, the people told the woman,
“It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
(John 4:42 - NRSV)
Indeed, in John’s Gospel, the word ‘see’ occurs 49 times. Almost all occurrences appeared in relation to Jesus: his work, glory, etc.
For example, in the beginning of the Gospel, we meet John the Baptist who proclaimed, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29 - NIV) It was John the Baptist’s call to invite people to behold Jesus, to meet him, and to accept him as their Lord and Saviour. Just like Philip invited Nathaniel to come and see Jesus, John invited people to behold Jesus, the Lamb of God.
But John did not only invite people to see Jesus physically. The invitation to look is the invitation to meet, experience, and finally accept Jesus into their life. Indeed, “The whole purpose of the Gospel of John is that we should see who Jesus really is so that we might truly trust and abide in him and thereby have true life.”
We can learn from modern scientists. A scientist has to be open to the data from his/her experiment. A scientist has to be ready to discard a theory, however old and revered that theory is, if the new data suggest that the theory is no longer valid.
A true scientist cannot be dogmatic or ideological. A true scientist has to be open to new approach. A true scientist has to be loyal not to a particular theory or dogma or ideology, but to the data. A scientist’s only loyalty is to his/her own ‘objective’ experience with the data.
Philip’s invitation to Nathaniel was to leave behind his old presumptions and prejudices and be open to a new experience. As such, his invitation to Nathaniel was an invitation to us all. We too are invited to come and see Jesus. We too are invited to leave behind our presumptions and prejudices so that we can have a new experience with Christ; so that we can listen and see him; so that he can guide us through the journey of our life.
 Living with the Enemy - Episode 3: Immigration, on http://www.sbs.com.au (17 September 2014 - 8:30 PM)
 David Ewart, Introduction to John, on www.holytextures.com (extracted on 05/01/2015)
 David Ewart, John 1:43-51, on www.holytextures.com (extracted on 05/01/2015)