Year B Proper 8 WEDNESDAY, 30 June 2021
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA (Live and Online)
“What do you hear?”
Collect: Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, saying, "Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit." But Peter said to him, "May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God's gift with money! You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God. Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and the chains of wickedness." Simon answered, "Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may happen to me." Now after Peter and John had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, proclaiming the good news to many villages of the Samaritans.
Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. They began to accuse him, saying, "We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king." Then Pilate asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" He answered, "You say so." Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, "I find no basis for an accusation against this man." But they were insistent and said, "He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place." When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he was under Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.
We hear what we want to hear, not necessarily what is said. One big challenge in communication is expressing things in multiple ways, yet consistently, so that the message can be received and what you want said to be heard.
Today’s New Testament and Gospel readings create an interesting dichotomy on people receiving and not receiving the message.
We see in the Acts reading, there is now a burgeoning community of believers in Samaria, the mixed blood region that most good Israelites ignored, distrusted, and rejected. But they were hearing and receiving the Gospel. They wanted to hear the Good News, and they did! And Peter and John went to lay hands on them so they could fully enter the faith by receiving the Holy Spirit. That was the proof in the pudding for the early church. The change was so impressive, the charlatan Simon thought it was a gimmick or trick that he could obtain. He offered to pay Peter and John for the gnosis, the hidden knowledge, so he could do this stunt, too! What a money maker that would be. But they rebuked him, so much so that he requested their prayers for deliverance from the curse they had made. He not only heard the message, he wanted it in his life fully, we have to hope.
The Gospel reading, though, is a painful exercise in missing the point. The Sannhedrin’s accusation against Jesus had them drag him to Pontius Pilate, the 5th Roman Governor of the province of Judea. Appeasing the crowd he heard them out, questioned Jesus, and found no grounds for their displeasure. But when he heard that he was from Galilee, he could pass the buck to Herod, so he would not have to continue with this. If he is Galilean, let Herod deal with it. That is his province, not mine. Herod was actually pleased. He had heard of Jesus, and was looking forward to the show. He may even be able to see a sign, like he had heard tell of. Jesus said nothing, so Herod played to the crowd and gave them what they wanted. His soldiers mocked and beat Jesus, and then sent him back to Pilate. Luke even says that this situation made them friends again, in seeing how they dealt with this problematic preacher.
The Roman officials spoke in power, using and abusing it. They expected a similar response. The Samaritans wanted Good News, and found that. Even Simon, mishearing the message eventually did, we can assume.
I try so very hard to hear what is being said, not hearing what I want to hear. But that is so hard. I am like most people, putting people in categories and assuming the actions and statements they will make. It is so hard to break free from that. It means I have to assume that people are being honest, and that I need to give them the benefit of the doubt. It means I have to listen without biases or pre-draw any conclusions.
Listen to how you listen. Observe what you are observing. Kick in that meta-cognitive, and look harder at yourself as a listener than the one trying to communicate with you. Think how the story would have been different if Pilate had taken the time to listen to Jesus.
Now think of the situations we face. Centuries long systemic racism. A country divided against itself, almost at a 50/50 split with the way our system works. A world driven by fear still in the grips of COVID-19. Even more fear piled on with the Delta variant. We need to listen with God-blessed ears more than ever. We need to live God-blessed lives so that we can expand a God-blessed kingdom for the health and security of all God’s children. Amen.