Daily Reflection
May 24th, 2004
Luis Rodriguez, S.J.
Chaplain, Creighton University Medical Center
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Acts 19:1-8
Psalm 68:2-3ab, 4-5acd, 6-7ab
John 16:29-33

In order to grasp the full import of the disciples’ “Now you are talking plainly...”, we need to look at the passage’s context with a wider angle lens. Daily readings present us with snippets of some chapter and, in so doing, they can blur the passage’s setting. In John’s gospel this exchange between Jesus and the disciples takes place shortly before his arrest, passion and death. Jesus has been telling them some unpalatable things they are not ready to understand: “In a while you will no longer see me... you will be weeping, while the world will rejoice...” But then Jesus’ talk turns more encouraging: “...your hearts will be full of joy... ask and you will receive... because the Father himself loves you...” and this is the part that elicits their “Now you are talking plainly...”

It is amazing how selective our hearing can become. In the hospital I have often encountered situations where a doctor has offered a rather grim prognosis to the patient’s family and has shared with me what they were told. Yet, when I talk with the family, it becomes clear to me that they have not “heard” the message. They are existentially incapable of hearing something they are in denial of, as I suspect the disciples were existentially incapable of “hearing” anything that implied suffering and defeat. Understandably families jump at any ray of hope in the doctor’s words in the midst of a grim prognosis and that is the only part they can “hear.” The disciples, too, jumped at the hopeful words of Jesus and reacted accordingly: “Now you are talking plainly...” I do not believe that either the families or the disciples are to be blamed for their selective “hearing.” A heavy heart cannot be asked to be objective.

Some years ago I had to interact frequently with a fellow Jesuit who, aside from being physically hard of hearing in his advanced age, was psychologically somewhat incapable of “hearing” what others may have been trying to tell him. One day I was getting frustrated by the near impossibility of communicating with him and I told him: “I know you have hearing aides, but what you really need is listening aides and unfortunately they do not make those.” There is a significant difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is an act of the body, listening is an act of the mind or perhaps more an act of the heart. Grieving families cannot listen to what they hear, just as the disciples could not listen to part of what they heard from Jesus. Having a listening heart is truly a gift, one we need to pray for.

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