I now consider it a privilege to have grown up experiencing large open spaces and the fresh country air of the farm. The quiet was often interrupted by sound rather than noise being interrupted by silence. On my way for an independent romp, I was instructed to “stay within earshot” so that my parents could call me in if needed. Such an instruction gave me significant latitude as the human voice could be heard for more than a quarter mile over the waving grass and standing woods.
In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus tells the story of an un-named “rich man” and the beggar Lazarus. Lazarus was hungry and sick, laid by the rich man’s gate, but was ignored except for the dogs who licked his wounds. The rich man was oblivious to the needs of the beggar as he indulged in his opulent lifestyle. Both men died. Lazarus was taken to experience comfort and peace alongside God’s man, Abraham. Meanwhile, the rich man was “in Hades, where he was in torment.”
As Jesus tells it, a conversation ensued between the rich man and Abraham. Briefly, the rich man requested a drop of water be given him from the hand of Lazarus but was informed that such a request was impossible. Then the request came to have Lazarus sent to the rich man’s brothers to warn them, “so that they will not also come to this place of torment.” This request also was not granted.
The crux of Jesus’ story is not to give a commentary on a specific social problem or even to give some clues about the “life after death.” Rather, the focus is on “listening to,” or “staying within earshot of” the Word of God. As Abraham denies the request of the rich man to send Lazarus to his brothers, he says, “They have Moses and the Prophets, let them listen to them.” And when the rich man suggests that one coming back from the dead will be more convincing, Abraham retorts that “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31).
What are some things that may deafen our ears to God’s Word of life?
1. The uproar of riches. Taking a clue from Jesus’s story, riches can indeed make us deaf to the voice of God. In this very context, Jesus said that we “cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 16:13). While money is, of itself, amoral, serving it and seeking it above all else deafens us to the purposes of God. Money can never be lord, but rather, along with every other gift from God, must serve the will of God in our lives. Any good thing that becomes the main thing is an idol and deafens us to the voice of God.
2. The clamor of comfort. It’s normal to seek “creature comforts”. But again, Jesus also instructed us not to “worry about … what you will eat or drink … For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:25, 32-33). I’m thankful for a warm and comfortable home, a closet full of clothes, and a refrigerator gorged with food; but woe to me if I seek that to the exclusion of also working to help those who do not have even basic needs met. Any good thing that becomes the main thing is an idol and deafens us to the voice of God.
3. Boisterous busy-ness. You may have heard the little quip, “If the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.” I’ve been there and have the t-shirt. (I’m there most of the time, if truth be told. In fact, it’s my favorite t-shirt!) We often live out the lie that our value is based solely on our production and accomplishments. Hard work is a good thing. It too is a gift from God. However, Luke records the event of Jesus’ visit to Mary and Martha for a reason.“One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion” (Luke 10:38-42, ESV), which was to listen to His Word. Often, we are moving so fast (even doing good things … things for God!) that we can’t hear what God is calling us to be and do. Any good thing that becomes the main thing is an idol and deafens us to the voice of God.
An invitation to “Listen” and be renewed by God’s Word:
The Church’s season of Lent is a great time to renew our listening skills as we journey again with Jesus on His way to Calvary. The “Word of God made flesh,” who came among us to speak life and hope into a sin-deafened world, makes His way to the cross where His sacrifice will cover the sins of all people and open the ears of all to hear the message of salvation that comes only through His bloody death and empty tomb of Easter. “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘YES’ in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20).
Stay within earshot of God’s Word because His Word is:
1. A treasure that gives great reward. “The decrees of the Lord … are more precious than gold … By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward” (Psalm 19.9-11).
2. A light that pierces the darkness.“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105, ESV).
3. A sword that pierces the heart. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and morrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
4. It is a whisper that shouts hope. “When He had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit” (John 19:30).
5. A life that defeats death. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … In Him was life … The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 4, 14).
Be encouraged this Lenten season especially to “stay within earshot” of God’s Word. Ask the Holy Spirit to guard your heart from the uproar of riches, the clamor of comfort, and boisterous busy-ness or anything else that would deafen you to the Word of God. Yes, listen to (pay attention to, take instruction from, obey) Moses and the Prophets, as Abraham instructed, because they bear testimony and point to the Word made flesh, Jesus, the Christ, whose death on the cross means forgiveness of all your sins and whose resurrection from the dead means new and everlasting life for you and all who believe.
Scripture quotes from NIV unless otherwise noted.