AM Psalm 87, 90
PM Psalm 136
I don’t always see the hookup between the readings but today wasn’t one of those days. It’s spelled out so clearly that it’s impossible to miss the connection.
Ezekiel was to go to Israel, his own people, not to strangers who spoke a different language or even an unfamiliar dialect but people whose language and idioms Ezekiel knew well. Of course, Israel wouldn’t pay any attention but God already knew that. The passage speaks several times of “hard”: “…all of the house of Israel have a hard forehead”…”I have made your face hard against their faces, and your forehead hard against their foreheads… Like the hardest stone, harder than flint, I have made your forehead…”(3:7c-9b). God was giving the message that Israel wouldn’t understand, wouldn’t want to understand, the message Ezekiel was to bring them but he was to go and speak anyway. His very name, Ezekiel, was a clue to his mission because in Hebrew it means “God strengthens”, a hardening process Ezekiel was going to need because the people he was to go and see definitely didn’t understand very much — and seemed not to want to understand very much.
In the reading from Hebrews, Paul wasn’t mincing a whole lot of words in telling his correspondents that they had “become dull in understanding,” not really living up to the standard he clearly expected. They needed to go back to the basics, relearn the original lessons, practice discernment. Not bad advice when someone reaches a point where they can’t understand what’s being presented to them, myself included.
Jesus healed a young boy with seizures and everybody was amazed. The disciples, though, seemed to be flunking Jesus 101 yet again, not really listening or comprehending what Jesus was telling them. Instead of talking about what Jesus had told them, they went off and started quarreling about which of them was better than the rest, acting more like schoolboys on the playground than disciples of a master who had tried to teach them greater things. They didn’t understand and didn’t really even seem to care that Jesus had called them on that lack of understanding.
Now there’s understanding and there’s understanding. There are some things a person can understand instinctively, like a fear of falling even in infants who’ve never even taken their first step. They learn to trust that their parents won’t drop them, but that makes use of the other kind of understanding, the kind that comes through education and most of all, experience. A lot of kids sit in math class doodling the name of a boyfriend or drawing pictures of cars, just knowing that they’ll never use all that stuff they’re supposed to be learning. It’s always a surprise when they grow up a bit and have to figure out how to add up the hours they’ve worked on their time sheets, or figure out how many square feet in the lawn they want to spray with Weed ‘n’ Feed so they can buy enough to cover it. I have to confess, I’m really math-challenged. If I have to do more than add two and two, I’m in trouble. I figure that’s why God made calculators and computers and smart phones to do a lot of that stuff for me, but I still have to understand what question to ask it to answer.
A lot of times when people don’t understand they stop listening. The Israelite people had stopped listening to God and they had stopped listening to the people God sent to try to get them back on track. The Hebrews stopped listening because they figured they knew it all when they didn’t really even comprehend the basic teachings. The disciples might not have stopped listening totally, but they seemed to only listen on the surface; there was a lot that was being said underneath that they didn’t understand because they were just taking the words at face value.
So I have to ask myself, how much do I really understand and how much am I just listening on the surface? How much am I listening for what I want to hear instead of what I need to hear? What am I doing to help others to really understand something and how much am I saying just to make myself feel important or smart or whatever? Who is an example for me of someone who not just understands but makes others want to understand as well?
There are a lot of things this world needs to understand, things like how to get along with others, the value of all human beings and not just members of one gender or one country, even the value of education. I think that’s all encompassed by one lesson Jesus continually taught, and one that seems to be almost impossible to understand, much less accomplish. The lesson? “Love your neighbor as yourself.” When we all understand that lesson, the world will be a safer, saner, healthier place, a place where God can come again and walk in the garden in the cool of the evening. And we can walk along.