Hear and Do: Listen First

Hear and Do: Listen First

Hear and Do: Listen First.

“As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what He taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.’ But the Lord said to her, ‘My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about, Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken from her.'” (Luke 10:38-42).

Jesus was a doer, and He expected His followers to be doers as well, “doers of the Word and not hearers only” (James 1:22). It’s true, though, that He listened first, to the Father. In the Gospel of John, we find that the Son is limited to doing whatever He sees the Father doing (5:19); the Son will do whatever the Father requires of Him (14:31); the Son has obeyed all the Father’s commands (15:10); everything the Son has heard from the Father has been told to the disciples by the Son (15:15). Jesus constantly had an open ear to the Father, and wouldn’t take a step without the Father’s blessing, without the green light from the Father. So, before Jesus did, He listened. Jesus was a doer, but only after He was a listener.

In our rush to obey Christ, to serve Him through action, it would be easy to lose a sense of priority. We mustn’t forget the biblical order of things: Listen first, then do. We need to become listeners before we become doers. In a real sense, we become contemplatives before servants. In fact, listening to Christ and His words is the first step in serving Him. Listening is the servant’s inhale, and action is the servant’s exhale. The first has to happen before the second. Martha loved Jesus just as much as Mary, but in her doing she became distracted from the listening part. Jesus’ gently rebuked Martha, not for her acts of service, but for her being distracted from listening to Him. Mary chose to drop everything, sit at the feet of Jesus, and listen to His teaching. And Jesus said that Mary had chosen the right thing, the good part, the first part. Listening to Jesus comes before serving Him. Once we have sat at His feet, it then is time to get off the ground and do His Word. As James says, “Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only.” (James 1:22). Sometimes we forget the hearing part.

Mary of Bethany was a much-loved friend of Jesus, along with her sister Martha and brother Lazarus. Their home in the little village of Bethany served Jesus well in His travels, as He was a frequent guest. Bethany was only two miles east of Jerusalem and on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, and so one could imagine Jesus dropping by whenever He was in Jerusalem.

Mary proved herself a devoted disciple of Jesus time and again. Her primary gesture of devotion seemed to be worshiping at Jesus’ feet. Whenever we see her in the Gospels, she was at His feet, whether she was listening to Him teach, grieving for her brother, or anointing His feet.

In Luke 10 we find her at home, sitting at the feet of Jesus as He teaches. He commended her for doing “the one thing needful,” even after her sister Martha complained that she was stuck with all the work in their hospitality. There was Martha, “distracted with many things,” and there was Mary, totally absorbed and hanging on every word of Christ. Mary demonstrated her piety by being undistracted in the midst of the distractions. Perhaps Jesus was saying that, despite the loving attention to detail in hospitality, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if they skipped lunch and instead tended to the “main course,” the Bread of Life. Eugene Peterson said as much in the Message – “Martha, dear Martha, you’ve been fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it – it’s the main course and won’t be taken from her.” (Luke 10:41-42). For Mary to assume the role of disciple was somewhat controversial, since women were generally not allowed to be directly taught by a rabbi. Jesus, though, welcomed her avid interest in His teaching.

Martha. We are given a much more balanced view of Martha in the Lazarus story of John 11. All we know of her so far is her being a classic doer, the first to welcome Jesus to their home, and then choosing to sweat through a luncheon preparation instead of sitting at Jesus’ feet like her sister Mary. There was workhorse Martha, fretting and complaining about the fact that she wasn’t getting much help with all her work around the kitchen. This story of the resurrection miracle puts Martha in a much more favorable light. She was the first to rush out to meet Jesus outside of town. She was the one who believed in Jesus’ teaching about the resurrection. She was the one who seemed to imply that Jesus could fix things even though Lazarus was dead. And she was the one who offers for all of us a powerful statement of faith in the midst of her grief. “Yes, Lord, I have always believed that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the One who has come into the world from God Himself.” (John 11:29).  It is clear in this story and the other one in Luke 10 that she dearly loves Jesus and believes in Him. Martha is an example to us all.

“ear”. Here is another organ to offer up as an “instrument of righteousness.” (Rom. 6:13). Isaiah 50:4-5 states that Adonai-Yahweh “wakes up” our ears each morning, if we are willing to have them awaken. “The Sovereign Lord has given me His words of wisdom, so that I know how to comfort the weary. Morning by morning He wakens me and opens my understanding to His will. The Sovereign Lord has spoken to me, and I have listened.” The Hebrew here is “He arouses for me an ear.” Are we open to having the Lord arouse our ears to listen to Him? It is important to close our ears to the unhealthy and open our ears to the life-giving. Open ears mean we are receptive, attentive, obedient to what we hear from God. Sometimes, as David says in Ps. 40, God needs to “dig out” our ears, to remove obstacles to hearing the truth. “My ears Thou hast dug [opened].” (Ps. 40:6). The ear was an important symbol of total receptivity in the Hebrew Bible: In Deuteronomy 15:17, when a servant wanted to swear life allegiance to the master, he would pierce his right ear and commit to being a love-slave. In Exodus 29:20, when a priest wanted to consecrate a sacrifice, he would place a drop of the sacrificial blood on his right ear. The ear is holy, for how else can one hear and receive the word of the Lord? “My child, listen to what I say, and treasure my commands. Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding.” (Proverbs 2:1-2).

“listen”. One can hear something without really listening. It takes deep openness to receive truth into your ears, have it register in your receptive mind, and travel to the heart of experience. Listening means it doesn’t merely go in one ear and out the other. To listen like a well-trained disciple, in the Hebrew Bible, is to listen in order to obey. To listen is to activate the will. The Hebrew word used here is “shama,” a form of the great word “shema,” the first word and title for what Jewish children said in their prayers every morning and evening. “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is One! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might!” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, NASB). Jesus quotes the shema and gives it central importance in one’s life as a follower of God. In other words, this prayer is saying, Listen up, people! Hear/Do! Get ready to obey this word from the Lord! This is important! Listen carefully and take heed! And that’s something we can think about every morning when God wakes up our ears to listen to Him. For the one who speaks God’s words of comfort must first listen to God, poised to obey. There’s another aspect of listening… One can’t talk and listen at the same time. When in prayer, or as we are walking through the day, it pays spiritual dividends when we stop talking to God and open our ears to listen. May we all, morning by morning, be like little boy Samuel, who responded to the Lord’s wake-up call with, “Speak, Yahweh, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:10-11).