God the Father speaks only twice in the New Testament, first at Jesus’ baptism and later at Jesus’ transfiguration. God the Father, “Our Father who is in heaven”, repeats the same message both times, “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased”, and in the second and last instance, Jesus’ transfiguration in the company of Moses, Elijah and three of Jesus’ Apostles, Peter, John and James – the Father says, “Listen to him.” (Matthew 3:17; 17:5).
We call Jesus, do we not, the Word of God? Makes sense to listen to him. Why would God the Father say the obvious? And why would Jesus so often say, “those who have ears to hear ought to hear.” (cf. Matthew 13:1-16). Consider how often our faith may be weak and confused when we pray. Then how does Jesus answer our prayers? Take, for instance, the time John the Baptist at the River Jordan points out Jesus to his disciples, Andrew and John, and says, “Behold, the lamb of God.” Andrew and John then follow Jesus, and when Jesus asks them, “What are you looking for?”, they answer, “Where are you staying?” They did not ask, Who are you or how are you the Lamb of God? Clearly, they were perplexed, but notice how Jesus replies, “Come and see” for yourselves who I am. How else would they learn why Jesus chose to be baptized by John who told Jesus,“I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”, and Jesus’ replies, “Let it be for now, for it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:13-17).
How many of us understand what Jesus said and did to “fulfill all righteousness”? Jesus was the only truly righteous man without sin ever to be born and is the only man who could take the place of Adam and redo Creation as the new Adam. Jesus was the only man who could make reparations for man’s sins which righteousness and justice demanded. The mercy which God dispenses – would not be possible without reparations which only Jesus could do. So Jesus began his public life with baptism for our sins and our repentance. Is that what we understand by truly listening?
God speaks to us all the time and wants us to listen carefully including what we may not be ready to hear.
Consider Samuel in the early days of the kingdom of Israel when God calls out, “Samuel, Samuel” and Samuel runs to his mentor, the priest Eli, and says, “Here I am. You called me.” Samuel does this three times before Eli, realizing what is happening, tells his young protégée, the next time you hear your name called say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” ( 1 Samuel 3:1-10 ).
We are told that “Samuel grew up and the Lord was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect.” (Ibid. 13:19). Raised by his mother from childhood Samuel understood the special favor God had granted his mother who was “barren”, and the vow she made. Before then she fervently prayed that should God grant her a son she would dedicate his life to God. When she had a son she named him Samuel which means “God hears”. Samuel became God’s teacher, prophet and the last judge in Israel before it became a kingdom. This was the price Hanna paid for a son. We, too, have “been purchased at a great price” the Apostle Paul acknowledged. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). And is there any “one thing [we] have which [we] have not received” from God which Saint Paul also acknowledged? (1 Corinthians 4:7 ). Life, Grace and our relationship with God immediately come to mind – the only things we take with us in our passing from this world.
“Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” – should be the better part of our prayer. God already knows what we have to say. Prayer is not prayer unless we listen. It is the first prayer priests begin saying daily, the Office of the Hours: “Today, listen to the voice of the Lord: Do not grow stubborn as your fathers did in the wilderness . . . . They challenged me and provoked me, although they had seen all of my works. Forty years I endured that generation. I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts have gone astray and they do not know my ways.’ So I swore in my anger, They shall not enter into my rest.” (Psalm 95:7-11 ). Their hearts were ‘hardened’ and they did not listen nor understand. (Psalm 95:7-11).
Ours is not a religion of formulas and prescriptions. Jesus came “in Spirit and truth”, and he will not force his grace and love upon us which explains why Jesus taught only in parables. ( John 4: 23-24 ). “I speak to them in parables,” Jesus said, “because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
you will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.
But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it”. (Matthew 13: 13-17)
“Speak Lord, for your servant is listening”. Our religion is as personal as God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is the reason why the Son of God became a human person. We, too, again are called as the Apostles, “come and see”, enter into the secret and mystery of God’s words in the gospel and especially his parables. “The kingdom of God is like”, Jesus said, a seeds among many seeds or a single mustard seed, flour and yeast, talents for servants to invest, a treasure to be found in a field, a lost coin to be found in a house, a net full of good and bad fish to be separated and altogether twenty-eight human experiences expressly called parables in the gospel. Many of Jesus’ other teachings are implicitly parables in the manner of Jesus' speech. Like the first parable of seeds sown in bad and good soil Jesus wants us to examine the condition of God’s word in the soil of our souls we inhabit destined for the kingdom of God. Or, as Jesus said, we can hear and choose not to listen and not understand. “Those who have ears to hear ought to hear,” Jesus said.
“Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” – listening should be the better part of our relationship not only with God but with each other. Husbands and wives, listen to each other. Brothers and sisters, listen to each other. Friends and adversaries, listen to each other. “This is my beloved son” God said, “listen to him”.
Who is listening?
Fr. Tom Bartolomeo
I’m getting married soon and I wanted to find out exactly how NFP works, since that’s what the Church recommends. I have saved myself for my husband and remained pure. I want to enjoy sex without the worries of getting pregnant right away. I want my husband to enjoy sex too, so NFP allows him to go all the way.