Ye cannot hear my word–Joh 8:43
No One Could Complain That They Could Not Hear
I should think that when these words were spoken they must have caused a great deal of perplexity. They seemed a contradiction of the facts. There are speakers whom one cannot hear well. It is a common complaint against the clergy. But I do not imagine for one moment that this complaint was ever made of Jesus. He could be heard in the confines of the crowd. Every word He spoke was audible in the clear, still air of Galilee. Even the officers had to bear their testimony that never man spake like this man. And one can easily picture the perplexity of those who that day were round about Him when our Lord said, “Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word.”
Hearing Depends on Character
So one comes to feel that for our Lord, hearing was not a physical activity. It was rather the reaction of the soul on the syllables which fall upon the ear. Just as two men may look at the same scene, yet see in it very different things, so may they listen to the same set of words, yet hear the most dissimilar suggestions. It was of such hearing, such spiritual receptivity, that our Lord was thinking when He said, “Ye cannot hear my word.” For it is not with the ear we hear; it is with the character and spirit. It is by all that we have set our hearts upon, by everything that we have struggled for. Every temptation we have ever met, every sin we have ever fought and mastered, determines the kind of thing that we shall hear as we take our journey through the world. Live meanly and you hear meanly, though you be listening to the Lord Himself. Live nobly and you hear nobly, though all that the ear catches is but commonplace. There is a great responsibility in speaking if for every word we are to give account; but our Lord was equally aware of the tremendous responsibility of hearing.
The Selective Power of Personality
One finds that selective power of personality in one of the best known of the Gospel narratives. For we read in St. John that when the Father’s voice was heard, “some said it thundered, and others that an angel spoke to him.” It was the same voice that broke on every ear, and yet to one it sounded like the angels, and to another there was nothing in it save the roll of the thunder in the hills. Had the ear been the one instrument of hearing, that diverse record would have been impossible. But these men were not hearing with the ear; they were hearing by what they were. All their past, their habit and their trend, their way of taking the common things of life, leapt to the light, unconsciously, in the interpretation of the Lord’s voice. That is what is happening constantly. Our verdict on others is our own verdict. Often our judgment of minister or sermon is really the judgment of ourselves. We are listening, not with the bodily ear, but with our loves and hates, our grudges and dislikes. We are listening with the hidden heart. That is why the Master said so sternly, “Ye cannot hear my word.” There was no physical impossibility. The impossibility was spiritual. Prejudices, jealousies, and antagonisms made the real Christ inaudible to them though His every syllable fell upon their ear.
What We Hear Is an Unconscious Revelation of Ourselves
Then one remembers how, in the Gospel of St. Mark, our Lord says, “Take heed what ye hear” (Mar 4:24). That is a very different thing from saying, “Take heed therefore how ye hear” (Luk 8:18). There is a sense, of course, familiar to everybody, in which we cannot help the things we hear. No one can escape the city’s uproar when walking in the city streets. But our Lord knew that many things we hear really depend upon our character and would never reach us if we were only different. There are those to whom we would never dream of gossiping; they do not hear it because of what they are. Nobody brings them nasty or lewd tales, and that, just because of their known character. So very often the sort of thing we hear depends on the sort of character we bear, and therefore for what we hear we are responsible. That is why our Lord says, “Take heed what ye hear.” The kind of thing we hear is an unconscious revelation of ourselves. And that is why, too, looking across His audience, to whom His every syllable was clear, He said, “Ye cannot hear my word.” “My sheep hear my voice”–they hear it because they love the Shepherd. They hear it because, through faith and love, they are attuned to the message and the meaning. So does our Lord clearly recognize the tremendous responsibility of hearing. It is those who are of the truth that hear His voice (Joh 18:37).