Author Lillian Smith put it bluntly when she said, “When you stop learning, stop listening, stop looking and asking questions, always new questions, then it is time to die.”
It’s a bit harsh, but Smith recognizes the significance and the art of listening. The willingness to listen is essential to life. And we as a nation are pretty bad at it.
You may or may not have been following some of the recent political developments in America. If you’ve been happily avoiding it, here’s a brief summary: there was a presidential election that came down to two fairly divisive candidates, and arguably the more polarizing of the two won. Some people feel that they are finally being heard after a long time of being ignored, while others now fear their voices will be drowned out. Social media abounds in vigorous disagreements, replete with accusations of fear and hate mongering and comparisons being drawn between candidates to famous fascists. After all, it’s not an internet argument until someone is compared to Hitler. In an effort to be heard, many have resorted to talking over one another, each voice gradually growing louder and less articulate.
What’s the result?
What’s left is a surplus of hurtful words and hard feelings, sure. But the more lasting repercussion is the creation of unmoved, unconvinced participants and the guarantee that the gaping chasm between them stays wide open.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus frequently asked people deeply personal and direct questions. He wanted them to be truly honest (both with him, and themselves) and he also allowed them the opportunity to be heard. When a blind man was calling out to Jesus from the side of the road, the crowds tried to shush him. But Jesus stopped and asked the man, “What do you want me to do for you?” When the man replied, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight,” Jesus healed him and told him it was his faith that had made him well. When Jesus sat at a well with a Samaritan woman, he began a conversation with her—even though, at the time, Samaritans and Jews weren’t supposed to interact. Despite their differences, the two engaged in a powerful conversation in which Jesus plainly revealed his true identity: the Messiah she awaited.
Just like Jesus, we need to be willing to have conversations. We need to ask questions and pay attention to the answers, expose ourselves to points of view we may not hold or even understand.
As Jewish believers in Jesus, we’re used to hard conversations. And even though we’ve had a lot of hurtful interactions, we’ve had a lot of great ones, too—we’ve met people, heard their stories, and had the opportunity to explain that you can be Jewish and believe in Jesus.
So let’s listen to each other. Let’s talk. And if you’re feeling unheard, frustrated, and misunderstood, we’d love to pray for you. Because God is listening, too.