Saturday, January 20, 2007


On Saturdays or shortly therafter I listen to BBC's CD Review (its on their website for 7 days after being broadcast unless you download the program). I confess I find it hard only (just) to listen--I'm in fact listening as I'm blogging. Actually, I've always found it helpful to be thinking about something and then to listen to music. It has a beneficial effect on thinking.

I've been musing on use of the verb "to listen" in Mark 4 as evidence of a transition from orality to written material. Jesus' parable begins thus: "Listen! Behold! The sower went out to sow..." (its a rare translation that keeps both the present plural imperative and the exclamation--Tyndale however does) and concludes, "Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear."

"When the disciples asked for a model of spirituality that they could imitate, all that the Master said was: Hush! Listen!" (Anthony de Mello, One Minute Wisdom).

Commentators on Mark 4 invariably point out comparisons with the "Shema" in Deut. 6:4 which is cited by Jesus in Mark 12:29-30.

People hear the word in several ways: as nonsense, superficially, temporarily (it goes in one ear and out the other), and as internalized.

Thus in Mark 4,
* those on the outside see but do not perceive and hear but do not comprehend
* disciples/others hear "the sown word" but immediately Satan tears it out of them
* disciples/others hear the word and grasp it with great joy temporarily
* disciples/others are those hearing the word but cares and longings entering in choke the word and it becomes unfruitful
* disciples/others hear the word and accept it and it bears fruit

With all these ways of hearing it is no wonder that Jesus says (v.24), "Heed how you hear." But the parable is not just a warning about hearing in specific ways. Its a statement that people hear in these different ways. Thus the admonition, "Heed how you hear!" (v.24) addressed to disciples is an intensification of "Listen!" at the opening of the parable of the sower.

After the parables follows an example of immediate obedient listening, this time by the wind and the sea. They show the disciples how to listen/attend to Jesus' commands: the wind "ceased" (aorist). Its the narrator who observes the disciples exclamation, "Who is this that even the wind and sea hear/obey (obey is a compound of the verb to hear) him?" So Jesus' command to listen is explored narratively through Jesus' dialogue with the disciples for understandings and misunderstandings of hearing including obedient hearing as a command to silence by rebellious powers of nature.

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