In his messages to the churches in the Book of Revelation, Jesus repeatedly says: He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22).
Even though Jesus is talking to those who are comprising each one of the seven churches, and even though Jesus is standing among them as Chapter 1 makes clear, Jesus does not assume that the individual members of each congregation have the ability to hear.
These words of Jesus should be a warning to each one of us. Do we have the ability to hear what Jesus is telling us? We shouldn’t assume so.
Hearing with understanding is a significant theme in the Scriptures. The Shema starts with hear: Hear O Israel, the Lord, our God, the Lord is one (Deut. 6:4). Jumping to the Gospels, Jesus talked about the importance of hearing in the parable os the Sower (Matt. 13:18-23).
The writer of Psalm 119 does not assume having the ability to hear and understand. The Psalmist specifically asks the Lord to teach him, to give him understanding, and the lead him in the right direction.
33 Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes;
and I will keep it to the end.
34 Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
and observe it with my whole heart.
35 Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for I delight in it.
36 Incline my heart to your testimonies,
and not to selfish gain!
37 Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
and give me life in your ways.
Without the desire to hear and without the desire to obey, we will not hear. And from Jesus’ words in Revelation, Jesus is not going to make us hear. He will speak. But, will we listen?
Reflecting on what Psalm 119 teaches about God’s actions and our responsiveness to God, John Goldingay writes:
Our relationship with Yhwh is founded on Yhwh’s grace, commitment, and compassion, and in appealing to Yhwh we appeal to who Yhwh is. Yet our relationship also depends on our obedience, and in appealing to Yhwh we appeal to that obedience. I am myself responsible for walking in Yhwh’s way, yet I depend on Yhwh’s help in doing so. My wholehearted commitment is a necessary but not a sufficient prerequisite to my living by Yhwh’s teaching. I need to be committed to walking the right way, but I need Yhwh’s help in not straying from it. I need to direct my feet, but I need Yhwh to establish them. I need Yhwh to incline my heart to Yhwh’s declarations, but I need to incline my heart to Yhwh’s declarations.
Indeed, I need Yhwh in order to understand these declarations [his Torah]. One might have thought that Yhwh had done all that was needed in giving us this corpus of teaching, but this is not so. We also need Yhwh to work in us to open our eyes to its wonders, to make us enthuse over it and therefore commit ourselves to it. We need Yhwh to broaden our minds. I cannot assume Yhwh will teach me; Yhwh’s teaching might remain hidden from me. There is a paradoxical form of insecure security about this relationship with Yhwh, such as often obtains in relationships. I can be confident about it, but I cannot take it for granted (Goldingay, John. Psalms: Volume 3 (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms): Psalms 90-150 (p. 445)).
In times of such cultural and political tumult such as we are experiencing right now across the world, this is a good time to be on our knees before the one who stands among us, and make this prayer of the Psalmist our prayer.