Ezekiel 33:7-9 / Romans 13:8-10 / Matthew 18:15-20
The ways we understand and perceive the world around us are through our senses. We have five traditional senses known as sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. These senses take the information from our environment and send it to our brain, which then processes the information and tells us how to respond.
The sense of sight develops the ability of visual recognition and develops more quickly than the rest of the other senses.
But from our earliest days, the sense of hearing develops our ability to communicate. That’s how we learn our mother tongue. That’s also how we develop the way we speak and our accent. And maybe that’s why we have two ears and one mouth, so as to listen twice as much as we speak.
So hearing is one of the body’s five senses, but listening is a skill that needs to be developed further. Because most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.
So even as we listen to someone talking to us, our brains are already formulating a reply even before the other person has stopped speaking.
And often, we are so eager to express our opinions that we interrupt the other person in mid-speech, which is quite rude, and at times the other person gets irritated and tells us off with “Can you let me finish what I am saying?” Well, we can let the other person finish what he needs to say, but it doesn’t matter much to us because we already have a reply ready and hence, we are not listening anymore.
That’s usually how an argument begins. It starts off as a discussion, and then into a debate and then when it gets fast and furious, it will dive into an argument where everybody is speaking (or shouting) and no one is listening.
What Jesus stated in the gospel is like a process for addressing a wrong-doing or conflict management: “If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you: the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any charge. But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community; and if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.
That’s a logical process that is applicable in addressing a wrong-doing or a resolving a conflict. But all that depends on one important factor – listening. That is also the keyword in that passage.
For any dialogue, or discussion or even a debate, listening to the other party is necessary, otherwise it will just become an argument which can even turn violent.
So is this just about addressing a wrong-doing or resolving a conflict? Maybe, but more than that, the teaching is at the last sentence of the paragraph, i.e. “if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.”
That is interesting because the gospel passage is taken from the gospel of Matthew, and Matthew as we know was a tax-collector before Jesus called him.
In the context of the gospel, a pagan is understood as one who doesn’t know God and a tax-collector is one who is concerned only with material gain.
So to treat a person as a pagan or as a tax-collector is to understand that the person does not know the voice of God and does not know how to listen to Him.
This weekend is “Catholic Education Sunday” and also “Catechetical Awareness Weekend”. Whether as teachers or as catechists, they teach children how to listen to God.
But the voice of God is not something so unfamiliar that we have to learn it through an academic process. Rather Catholic teachers and catechists help their students to listen to the voice of God within.
The word “catechism” at its core, is the word “echo”. God speaks to everyone, and His voice echoes in our hearts. We only need to know how to listen.
A son and his father were walking in the mountains.
Suddenly, his son falls, hurts himself and screams: "AAAhhhhhhhhhhh!!!" To his surprise, he hears the voice repeating, somewhere in the mountains: "AAAhhhhhhhhhhh!!!"
Curious, he yells: "Who are you?" He receives the answer: "Who are you?" Angered at the response, he screams: "Coward!" He receives the answer: "Coward!"
He looks to his father and asks: "What's going on?"
The father smiles and says: "My son, say something nice."
And so the son shouts to the mountains: "I like you!"
The voice answers: "I like you!"
Again the son shouts: "You are strong!"
The voice answers: "You are strong!"
The boy is surprised, but does not understand.
Then the father explains: "People call this ECHO, but really this is LIFE.
It gives you back everything you say or do.
Our life is simply an echo of our words and actions.
If you want more love in the world, create more love in your heart.
If you want more competence in your team, improve your competence. When your words are kind, the people you speak to will also be kind.
This relationship applies to everything, in all aspects of life; Life gives you back everything you have given to it."
Catholic teachers and catechists are like the father. He does not impose his voice but he lets his son hear the echo of his own voice, and helped his son realize that the voice of God is heard in the kind words that he spoke.
But in this noisy world where people want to have their say and so many words are spoken, how do we listen to the voice of God?
That’s where prayer comes in. Jesus said, “I tell you solemnly once again, if two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.”
Before even embarking on addressing a wrong-doing or resolving a conflict, we must be able to pray with the other person first, otherwise nobody will be listening to anything that is spoken.
When we pray together, we listen to echoes of our own voices as well as the echo of the voice of God within us.
And the voice of God will never contradict the Word of God, for Jesus is the Word of God and where two or three gather in His name, He will be there.
That is His promise to us. Let us believe in His promise, and we will be able to listen to the voice of God.