The question behind the question, “Can you hear me now?” is “What prevents God’s people from really hearing God’s voice?” Perhaps like those in the synagogue in Nazareth who longed for Jesus to deliver some anti-Roman, pro-Israel restoration sermon, people of today often do not hear God speak, because what we long for is sometimes not what God renders.
In a series of commercials, a wireless network company features a man walking through various parks, on the street, on top of a mountain and even in an athletic stadium. All the while, he is talking on a cell phone, and wherever he goes, he constantly asks, “Can you hear me now?”
The idea is to show that there is no limit to this company’s wireless service. Its reach is quite expansive. No matter where a subscriber goes, the company’s service is there. Anyone using its services can be heard anywhere at any time.
Whereas this company’s marketing team is more concerned with connecting audiology and technology, Jesus in this Lukan text is more concerned with the relationship between spirituality and audiology–how does what one hears translate into what one believes and subsequently into what one does?
The crowd listens to Jesus and expects him to give his customary commentary on this Sabbath. Yet with all eyes fixed on him, Jesus does not give any detailed excursus, just a simple one-liner on fulfillment. The crowd hears this, but what are they to do with it? Because what the crowd expected and what Jesus delivered did not match, his speaking and their ability to hear did not connect.
The question behind the question, “Can you hear me now?” is “What prevents God’s people from really hearing God’s voice?” Perhaps like those in the synagogue in Nazareth who longed for Jesus to deliver some anti-Roman, pro-Israel restoration sermon, people of today often do not hear God speak, because what we long for is sometimes not what God renders. Our expectations and God’s deliverables do not correlate, thus creating a cognitive and spiritual disconnect.
Yet as believers we must keep in mind that God has always done the unexpected. A baby born in a manger in Bethlehem, raised in the slums of Nazareth and crucified like a criminal was not the Messiah those in Jesus’ day expected. Expectations can indeed hinder what we choose to hear.
Our expectations and desires often prevent us from truly hearing and receiving the message of Jesus. Because we have prescriptions for how God should act and in what time, we struggle to hear God. Because we place our orders and expect God to fill and fulfill them in our way, we too are not spiritually in tune to the voice of God and God’s speaking throughout the world and even in our own lives.
The HIV/AIDS crisis and the genocide in Darfur remind us that we may have expectations as to who gets the AIDS virus or who is at fault in Darfur, yet God does the unexpected by challenging us that the issue is not how God’s people get in peril. Our duty is to comfort those who are in danger and moreover get them out of danger.
Spiritual dissonance is what happens when we do not align our wills with God’s will for our lives.
We say we want the Lord to sit down and teach us. Yet if what God teaches is not the lesson we want for the day, the lesson falls on spiritually deaf ears. Like those in the synagogue that day with Jesus, we may even question God’s ancestry, God’s pedigree–Is God really God if God does not do what I want, the way in which I want it?
However, just as Jesus was born in an unusual manner and died in an even stranger way, we as believers must always be open to God doing things in abnormal, unexpected ways. We must allow God to be God and hear the Lord through our faithful, believing ears.
Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder is assistant professor of religion at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. She teaches New Testament studies.
This column excerpted from a Bible commentary for “The Agenda: 8 Lessons from Luke 4,” a free, online study to help prepare churches for next year’s New Baptist Covenant Celebration in Atlanta. The faculty of the School of Religion at Belmont University partnered with the Baptist Center Ethics to write the commentaries. The commentary, lessons and other resources are available here.