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      Nurturing people in the image of God since 1868.                                                                          POB 397/520 Dry Creek Rd./Smithville, TN


Are You Listening With Your Heart

"The late comedian Milton Berle once related the following story. A man, suffering from a terrible itching, was on his way to the doctor's office. In the elevator he was joined by a deaf man who was with a companion. Smiling a greeting, the itcher started to scratch himself all over, stopping just as he reached the right floor. After he stepped off the elevator, the deaf man turned to his companion and signed, "I wonder what he meant by that?" The teaching of Jesus sometimes leaves people asking the same thing. In Mark 4:11-12, after giving  the "Parable of the Sower/Soils," Jesus warned His disciples: "To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, so that 'Seeing they may see and not perceive, And hearing they may hear and not understand, l est they should turn, And their sins be forgiven them.' " The point of these words is not that Jesus seeks to hide the truth or make it difficult to see. The point is that those who listen superficially will miss the point! Half listening to a preacher on Sunday morning is not the same as hearing a word from God.

The primary emphasis in the parable of the soils is not on preaching. It is on hearing. Jesus likens the word of God to seed sown in four different kinds of soil or ground: wayside (hard), stony, thorny, and good ground (4:3-8). The soils clearly stand for different kinds of responses to the word of God. Some outrightly reject the word, some accept it but then stumble, and some allow multiple distractions to choke the word out. In only one of the four hearts does the seed end up bearing fruit and saving a soul! But amidst the differences in the soils/souls there is one marked similarity - they all hear the word: "they hear" (vs. 15), "they hear the word" (vs. 16), "ones who hear the word" (vs. 18), "those who hear the word" (vs. 20). There was a lot of listening going on in Jesus' parable. In this case in Mark 4 the perfect seed was being sewn by the Perfect Sower preaching a perfect sermon! But while the seed and the Sower in this case were perfect, the soils were not. Some have convinced themselves that any time a sermon "fails" it must be the preacher's fault. But in Jesus' parable, it wasn't the sower or the seed that failed but the soil! Preachers have much to do with a sermon's success or failure, and sometimes they do fail. But in Jesus' parable the onus is not on the sower but on the soils who receive the seed. At least as important as the question of how well the preacher speaks is how well do we listen. When God's Word is preached, we hear the preacher if we listen only with our ears, but we hear God when we listen with our hearts.

Dan Gulley
Smithville church of Christ