LISTENING: Take Care How You Listen by M. Basil Pennington

Take Care How You Listen by M. Basil Pennington

From Listening: God’s Word For Today

As Jesus was making his way through the towns and villages preaching, he often told stories, drawing upon the everyday events around him and the creation which he loved – for he had made it.  The Twelve were with him as were other disciples such as Mary Magdalene and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward, and Susanna.  In the evening, after a long day of ministry they would gather for a quiet time with Jesus.  One evening he said to them: “Take care how you hear, for anyone who has taken care will be given more, while from anyone who has not taken care, even what he has will be taken away.”

That was the day Jesus had spoken about the sower.  As he sat in the village square, his listeners could see on the hill behind him exactly what he was talking about.  There was a field, criss-crossed with paths.  Along the sides of the field were the rough patches where the stones that had been gathered from the field had been thrown and where briars and thorns now grew freely.  As the farmer went out to sow, he had a big day’s work ahead of him.  He could not place each seed carefully but rather he had to broadcast them, letting the wind do its work.  So some of the seed landed along the paths, other seed landed among the stones and rocks or among the thorns, while most landed in the farmer’s roughly plowed field.

The birds were not slow in swooping down to devour the seed that landed on the hard paths.  The seed that landed among the rocks had a chance to sprout.  But without moisture there would soon be dry shafts stirred by the breeze.  The seed that landed among the thorns and briars had little chance.  The more deeply rooted weeds just choked it out of existence.  It was the seed that fell among the furrows that had the better chance, depending on how well the particular area had been plowed, how much moisture got to it, how open it was to the warmth of the afternoon sun.

With the gathered crowd the disciples had enjoyed this story.  But now they wanted more insight.  And Jesus gave it to them.  It was all a matter of listening to the Word of God.  For the seed is the Word.  Some people, unfortunately, do come to the liturgy in synagogue or church, or were there in the crowd listening to Jesus, who hear the proclamation of the Word, but there is no listening.  The Word strikes the surface but there is no entry.  It is blown away or carried away like so many other meaningless words.

There were others in Jesus’s crowd, just as there are at the weekly services, who do whip up a certain amount of enthusiasm for the occasion.  But the next day, when it comes to living what they have heard, their enthusiasm has waned.  The Word is no longer relevant for them.  Others take the Word in but they have other cares that take priority in their lives; they are too preoccupied with chasing after the almighty dollar.  The Word has little chance of surviving and becoming fruitful in their lives.

Happily, most of the seed has fallen upon the prepared field.  Jesus speaks of this as the rich soil – people with noble and generous hearts who have heard the Word and take it to themselves and yield a harvest through their perseverance.

“Take care how you listen.”  In order to be a listening that can truly hear the Word we do have to cultivate our listening.  If we let worldly doings constantly overrun our lives, there will be no possibility for the Word to enter.  It will bounce off the surface.  If we respond only with the enthusiasm of the moment, with feelings and emotions, and do not take time to let the Word reshape our listening, forming convictions and a new value system, the Word will never bear fruit in our lives.  Nor will it bear fruit if our priorities are such that the pursuit of business, pleasure, and success in this world comes first for us.  Our listening needs to be plowed with some self-denial to get rid of the thorns of the flesh that have taken root in us and to soften the clumps of hardness in our hearts toward the things of God and the needs of our sisters and brothers.  And the sown seed is going to need the watering of meditation and the warmth of God’s love that prayer allows to penetrate our lives.  Then the Word of God will bear in us a rich harvest of the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness. . . .

So, as Jesus tells us, “Take care how you listen.”


2 Comments on LISTENING: Take Care How You Listen by M. Basil Pennington

  1. Very nice essay. Here’s another take on the topic.

    “Listening cultivates wisdom and removes ignorance. It is like a torch that dispels ignorance. If you enrich your mental continuum by listening, no one can steal that wealth. It is the supreme wealth.”

    Tenzin Gyatso
    The Dalai Lama
    The Little Book of Buddhism


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