You Have to WANT to Hear
Christ is risen!
“Can you hear me now?” That famous commercial question was meant to show that one cell phone carrier was better than another. Of course, those were the days of dropped calls and out-of-range service areas. I, personally haven’t had that kind of problem in quite some time.
But, there also seems to be a deep problem with listening in our lives. While we certainly can hear a lot, the art of actually listening is all too often in short supply. Most of the conflicts I’ve experienced in my own life could be traced to a lack of willingness on my part or another’s to actually listen to what is being said. That’s because authentic and honest hearing flows from an ability to be humble and loving!
The truth is true hearing comes from actually wanting to hear. And that starts with my will, my “want to.” Developing a discipline of listening and actually hearing what wisdom is trying to teach us always starts with the humble admission I need to be willing to hear wisdom and then apply wisdom to my life. One of the greatest requests I make of my children and of the people who worship with us at the parish is this basic principle: Give the Church at least an equal chance to make the case for the wisdom we teach. At least give God a hearing!
Look at our lesson today in Acts 10:21-33:
In those days, Peter went down to the men sent by Cornelius to him and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well-spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house, and to hear what you have to say.” So he called them in to be his guests. The next day he rose and went off with them, and some of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him. And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his kinsmen and close friends. When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered; and he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit any one of another nation; but God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.” And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was keeping the ninth hour of prayer in my house; and behold, a man stood before me in bright apparel, saying, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter; he is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the seaside.’ So I sent to you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here present in the sight of God, to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”
The Roman centurion, Cornelius, was a good and honorable man. He was raised to be a soldier and he must have been very good at his job to reach the level in the Roman army of a centurion. He was a commander of soldiers and a well-respected professional even by those who would otherwise hate the soldiers of the occupying army!
And he feared God, and prayed devoutly, so much that God chose Cornelius, the Gentile Roman Soldier, to be the convert to change both the future of Rome AND the heart of St. Peter towards “outsiders.” Wow! As a “God-fearer” Cornelius occupied a space in the Hebrew world of those born outside the racial connection with Judaism who willingly heard the wisdom of the Faith of Abraham. In other words, Cornelius was humble enough to be teachable and willing to hear wisdom from a culture that wasn’t his own background.
But it all started with Cornelius’ devotion to Truth. Cornelius had adopted the Jewish liturgy of daily prayer and while he was keeping his prayer discipline, at the 9th hour (or 3 PM) God Himself sent an angel to tell Cornelius what to do next with his devotion to God – Send for St. Peter to preach to you!
Cornelius’ devotion flowed from a heart humble enough to practice the faith tradition of a group he wasn’t raised in. His heart hungered for God. His prayers and faithfulness prepared him and his household to become the first Gentile converts to the new Christian Faith. In other words, the faithful cultivation of a focused relationship with God made Cornelius both able and WILLING to HEAR! And this willingness was the first step in the explosion of Faith through the Gentile world for the Christian message. In a very real way, Cornelius’ willingness to hear and be taught opened the Faith to the whole world born outside the ethnic culture of the Jews.
The prophet Isaiah knew this day was coming. His name literally means “God is Helper.” And he is one of the most eloquent writers in the Hebrew scriptures. His prophecies about the coming of the Messiah point to the day that God would open the Faith to all people regardless of their ethnic background. His prophecies are divided into 66 chapters in the Scriptures and he is the prophet that saw that the Virgin would conceive and bear a Son, but this would be no ordinary messenger. No, this Son would be “Emmanuel” which means “God with Us.” As we commemorate St. Isiah today, the discipline of truly hearing his words in the Scriptures is more important than ever!
Today, are you practicing the Faith disciplines to enable you to hear the truth? Our deafness to wisdom usually flows from our saturation with other “voices” drowning out the wise words of the Faith in our lives. Start today to silence those other voices with a focused and humble practice of the daily prayers of the Church and watch as you grow more able to hear and then embrace a Normal Orthodox Life.
P.S. Having received the gift of prophecy, O Prophet-martyr Isaiah, herald of God, you make clear to all under the sun the Incarnation of God by crying with a great voice: Behold the Virgin shall conceive in her womb.