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Listening with sincerity

In this week's Religion column, Rev. James McKnight urges readers to consider opinions with an open mind
A genuine conversation. Stock Photo

In the 10th chapter of John’s gospel we read:  The religious authorities said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice ..”    

There’s a school of thought that tells us we tend to hear and listen to those voices that affirm what we already believe. We tend to listen to those people with whom we’re inclined to agree in the first place. If our inclination is to be liberal progressive, we tend to find ourselves leaning toward a more liberal progressive Christian tradition.

If our inclination is to be conservative traditional, we tend to find ourselves leaning toward more doctrinal Christian traditions, and giving credence to the voice of confessional churches. The idea is that we tend to give credence to those voices and those versions of events that are consistent with our own beliefs and preconceptions and prejudices.

In his opinion column in the newspaper last week, Rick Salutin was giving consideration to Quebec’s Bill 21 on secularism. Purportedly, the Bill is purposed to defend Quebec’s unique identity and protect “Quebec values." But Salutin wonders aloud if the bill might be more a cover for Islamophobia to win votes than an expression of a noble ideal.

Is the Bill noble, or racist? What voice are we inclined to hear and agree with? And do we listen to the voice of government that claims budget cuts are an absolute necessity in the interests of sustainability? Or do we hear the voice of those who assert that the real deficit problem is revenue shortfall? What are our own inclinations? What are our prejudices and predispositions?

But this tendency, of course, that attaches to all of us, is not the only force that affects our decisions. We can acknowledge that the status of the person whose voice we hear makes a difference!

On Mother’s Day, for example, it would be natural to consider the influence and status we assign to a mother. A mother’s place is important; a mother’s voice is important, because the absence of a mother’s voice can be a real hardship. I know a young woman whose mother died not long after this young woman gave birth to her first child. One of the worst things about it for this new mom, as she told it to me, was not having her mom around so she could call her when she needed her; so she could ask her questions about bringing up her daughter.

All of these voices are there for us to hear: the voices of inclination, of predisposition and prejudice; of status, of influence, of mother; the voice of Jesus when he says:  “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me ...”

The sheep of the Shepherd hear his voice; they hear his voice above all the others. And what is it that the Shepherd is saying? To the paralytic let down through the roof he says: “I say to you, rise, take up your bed and go home.” To the disreputable woman who washes his feet with her tears and dries them with her hair, he says: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” To the woman who dares public ridicule and touches his robe to be healed: “Daughter, your faith has made you whole; go in peace.”

To his interfering disciples: “Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.”

To the everyday people who made up the crowds around him: “Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

To the disciples he loves through the ages: “I have called you friends .. love one another as I have loved you.”

To his mother at the cross and the disciple he loves standing near: “Woman, behold, your son! Behold, your mother!”

And to the world of all generations: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my family, you did it to me.”

This is the voice of the Shepherd: a voice of compassion and healing;  understanding and inclusion and restoration; a voice that assures us we all are God’s children, and loved, regardless of race, creed or colour, of sexuality, or status, or age  -  all of us valued and loved, and made in God’s image.

This is the voice of the Shepherd, and true; it’s the voice of the faith that brings life; and our prayer is we hear this voice first, over all.

Rev. James McKnight

About the Author: Rev. James McKnight

Rev. James McKnight Minister, Trinity United Church, Thorold
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