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Lesson from a Fortune Cookie

Lesson from a Fortune Cookie


Hear with your ears but listen with your heart. – Found on a fortune cookie


Matthew 4:18-25


Sometimes wisdom can come from the strangest places. I don’t usually read my horoscope, much less believe what it tells me any more than I think the “You will come into much money” or “You will meet the person of your dreams” that often seem to come in fortune cookies will come true. Still, I always open the cookie, mainly because I love to eat them, and often find amusement in what they tell me. This one told me also that my lucky numbers were 18, 19, 20, 41, 45, and 58. I don’t trust lottery tickets any more than I usually do fortune cookies or horoscopes.

Still, this little piece of paper (which also wanted to teach me the characters and pronunciation for “watermelon” in some dialect of Chinese), made me stop and think. I’m sure I’ve heard this same sentiment several times said in several different ways, but this little paper came at a time when I think I needed to listen to it. Not just hear it, but take it under advisement.

In my daily life, I don’t always have the opportunity to do more than listen to the dialog on TV programs that I use for background noise most of the time. Once in a while, there is a documentary on a topic in which I am interested or a news story I find online that catches my attention. The other day, there was a story about shortages of not only masks, medical supplies, and personal protective attire, but water and food as well on the Navajo reservation and probably other reservations as well. It made me think about how I complained about the lack of disinfectants and cleansers in the stores as well as standard things like toilet paper and paper towels.  I was without air conditioning for a couple of days, and I had to work to accept that things break down occasionally, usually at the worst possible time. But what if that breakdown meant life and death? I found myself feeling somewhat ashamed of feeling even slightly deprived when others were so much more in need than I was.  My heart heard what my ears (and eyes) were taking in.

Jesus must have felt that most of the time, his disciples weren’t really hearing what he was trying to teach them.  It happened over and over as we read through the gospels, but now and again, something clicked with them, and they “got it.” In the gospel reading for today, Peter and Andrew and then James and John not only heard Jesus’ invitation to follow him with their ears but with their hearts as well. After all, Jesus was telling them to leave their families and their homes to become itinerants and students, and they didn’t need a piece of paper from a fortune cookie to tell them to follow Jesus.

I admit there are a lot of times I tune people out simply because I am overwhelmed by them. Many seem to me to be entitled people whose lifestyle changed because of circumstances beyond their control and who don’t mind complaining to all who listen that they didn’t deserve this; it is infringing on their personal rights. I shudder at the pictures of maskless people, often carrying sidearms or rifles of various kinds, angrily facing those who stand, mask in place, looking stoic but as determined as the protesters. How many deaths might they cause to innocent people who have rights too? 

We have the right to follow Jesus if we listen not only with our ears but also in our hearts. We demonstrate love when we put the lives of others ahead of our personal wishes and practices. We have lots of rights, most of which end at the ends of our noses. The same goes for those who oppose what we think, believe, and/or practice. Still, if we as Christians have to err, it’s on the side of love, and love means sometimes inconveniencing ourselves for the greater good. I wear a mask, not just to protect me, but to hopefully protect someone else. Many folks are making masks for loved ones, but also clinics, nursing homes, hospitals, and other first responders. That’s their hearts responding to what their ears heard, whether or not they are Christian. They are following an almost universal religious message to “Love one another.” 

This week I’m conscientiously trying to listen to what is essential, not only with my ears but also my heart. I’m trying to hear messages of hope and trust, not condemnations, self-congratulations, or words of divisiveness. I’m trying to let my heart speak rather than just my brain and to encourage others to do the same. If I follow Jesus, I have to accept the whole message, not only the parts I like. It’s not just about me, but about everyone around me. The disciples had to learn to do that, and so must I. 

I think I’ll tack that little piece of paper on the corkboard next to my desk. It has a message I think I will probably need to read often in the days to come. Maybe I’ll put it over a picture of an icon of Mary that hangs in a church I attended. Mary listened with her ears and heart, and look what came of it. 

God bless.


Image: Fortune cookie broken, Author User Lorax. Found on Wikimedia Commons.


Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter.


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