Listening is such a key part of life. We listen to each other. We listen for God. We listen to our own bodies, when we are sick, when we are healthy, when we are pregnant.
Lately, we have become a people who rarely has time to listen – to others – or even to ourselves or God. We live in a world bombarded by messages, from our cell phone, and everywhere. We fill our lives with such hurriedness I wonder if we have time anymore to listen to our bodies, our souls, our spirits.
The Bible is filled with stories of people who listen, or who clearly don’t listen to God or anyone else. In Exodus today Moses and Aaron begin their display of tricks. Pharaoh does not listen because his heart is hard.
The Lord tells Moses and Aaron to go before Pharaoh, and Aaron is told to throw down his staff. It becomes a snake. So everyone throws down his staff. They all become snakes! Aaron’s snake eats all the others.
Pharaoh does not listen. He refuses to let the people go. We learn of the disaster life can be when we do not listen to God.
And so we begin the Ten Plagues. The first is the water turning to blood, reminiscent of Pharaoh throwing each Hebrew boy into the Nile. Now the tide has turned. The very life-blood of the community, the Nile, has ironically turned into life – into blood, which makes it useless for human sustenance.
I got to thinking this morning about another kind of listening – our listening to scripture. One of the many rifts in the Christian community is wrapped up in how the different approaches to scripture lead to different views. Some believe the Bible literally – which you have heard me rail against, because it leaves no room for metaphor, myth, parable, and story.
Today’s readings pose many problems for the literalists. As the Ten Plagues are recounted, we realize that not even scripture agrees with itself. In other places in the Bible, namely in two Psalms, there are only Eight Plagues. Which is right? In Mark, the teaching about divorce is final – there is NO room for exception. In Matthew, there is to be no divorce UNLESS there is unchastity. Then it is permissible. So which scripture is right?
So how are we to listen to scripture? Furthermore, it is not just “listen” but how we listen that becomes important.
For one, I wish we would all admit straight away that the Bible contradicts itself in many areas. To say this is not heresy, it is declaring the obvious. But that does not mean that the Bible is not any less true or relevant. It means it is a large, complex book. And when Jesus spoke in metaphors (i.e. “I am the bread of life” or “I am the door”) he did not mean he was actually turning into a loaf of bread or into a door. He meant to say something deeper to us.
I am much more interested in that “deeper” message.
As part of that, I am much more interested in what the Bible principally teaches. What do these words mean for my heart to do? Just like Pharaoh, I believe we have hardened ourselves to God’s word at times, more intent with fighting with each other than having its word permeate deep into our souls.
For me it is OK that there are two recollections of Jesus’ teaching on divorce. It is like getting two witnesses to an accident – their stories are always a little different. To me that means it is probably a true story! If everyone’s perception of these events was identical, I think any police officer would tell you it was probably a staged story. Not everyone sees the same details or remembers the events in the same order.
I invite our world to open itself up to the reading and hearing of scripture once again. To put down our Bibles and stop looking so intently – looking for ways to disagree with our neighbors. I invite the world to stop and LISTEN to scripture, and hear the story each in our different ways. (When I was 15 and heard these stories, they meant a lot different things than they do today. I hope when I am 45 I hear yet different things.)
So listen with fresh new ears today. And ask yourself, “What is God telling me this time?” Your imagination may wander from the text altogether. That’s OK. What is God up to in your life today?