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Ed Jordan: Having Ears But Not Hearing

Posted: 11/9/18 at 10:55am. Column by Ed Jordan. 

There is a great saying by Jesus in Mark 8:18 (ESV) where he confronts the disciples, saying: “Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?”

This saying is full of irony but also spiritual truth. There are at least three layers of background to this saying which influence its meaning. Three? Really? Yes, really.

The truth is that everything we hear needs to be interpreted in order for us to understand it.

Understanding what someone says requires us not only to have ears to hear what they’re saying, but to engage our ears to understand the meaning of what they said. Here is the context that preceded this statement by Jesus, which explain what he meant.

Understanding what someone says requires us not only to have ears to hear what they’re saying, but to engage our ears to understand the meaning of what they said.

In Mark 8:1-10, we read about a phenomenal miracle. A great crowd had been following Jesus for three days, and they now had nothing to eat. Jesus felt compassion for them because they had traveled far and were hungry.

If he just sent them away, they would have difficulty getting home. The disciples’ response to Jesus was logical: Where can anyone find enough bread to feed 4,000 people in this wilderness? Jesus then asked them how much bread and how many fish were available. They said: “Seven loaves and a few small fish.”

Jesus had the people sit down; he gave thanks to God for the bread, and he began breaking the loaves—giving the pieces to the disciples to distribute to the people. He did the same with the few small fish. About 4,000 people ate their fill. The disciples collected seven large baskets of broken pieces of leftovers. Jesus sent the people home, and he and the disciples got in the boat to leave.

At their first stop, some Pharisees (Jewish scholars who were devoted to keeping the laws and traditions) began to argue with Jesus, trying to test him. But he and the disciples left by boat and went to the other side of Galilee.

On the way, the disciples realized that they had forgotten to bring the leftovers. All they had was one loaf of bread in the boat.

At this time Jesus tells them: “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees, and the leaven of Herod.”  Jesus’ words about leaven (yeast) reminded them that they had forgotten to bring the bread.

Jesus hears them discussing bread, and asks in vs. 17: “Why are you discussing bread? Do you get it? Don’t you understand? Do you have hardened hearts?” Then He speaks the statements in v. 18: “You have ears. Can’t you hear? You have eyes. Can’t you see?”

That is the background of why Jesus asked if they could not see and understand. He was warning them not to let the words and attitudes of the Pharisees infect them, like yeast infects dough. But the disciples didn’t get it and kept thinking about real bread—and about who forgot to bring any.

Jesus then wove in the truth about the feeding of the 4,000. He was saying, “If I needed bread, don’t you realize, after my feeding 4,000 people with the few loaves and fish, that we wouldn’t go hungry?”

The truth is, few of us listen very well. We don’t focus, we don’t give our full attention to the conversation, and we usually don’t factor in why the person is discussing a particular theme. We have ears, but we don’t really listen. We assume we know why they are saying it, or we fabricate a meaning for what they meant.

As an example, today someone asked me about something I said I would do this week but haven’t yet had time to do. I misheard why they were asking, because I got defensive about being busy and working on other priorities.

I am pretty sure the person then misheard what I said and assumed I was angry. It was such a brief and secondary conversation but so loaded with meanings for both people, and both of us missed the point of the other.

How well do you listen to others? Do you try to understand what is happening in their lives to cause them to respond the way they do?

We don’t always mean what we say, and we don’t always say what we mean. No wonder listening is a difficult art. Practice learning to listen not only to what a person says, but also try to understand what that means based upon the current situations in that person’s life. Happy listening!

ed-jordan2Award-winning columnist Dr. Ed Jordan is pastor of Gwynn’s Island Baptist Church, Gwynn, VA. You may also read his past columns.

He can be reached at szent.edward@gmail.com.