Airports are noisy places. Not only engine noise heard outside, but in the concourses and near the gates, there seem to be constant announcements about delays, gate changes, updates on arrivals, etc. I’ve observed this phenomenon: everywhere there is a sea of people talking, snacking, scrolling, reading, sleeping, but when an announcement begins, every head pops up to listen. Immediately, once it is clear the message doesn’t concern them, they go back to what they were doing even though they still hear the voice talking. It’s only the ones impacted who are now scrambling their bags together, getting ready for the long run to the new gate, preparing to board, or groaning about yet another delay. What is universally true of this massed humanity, is that they are listening, listening intently lest they miss a crucial update about the next leg of their journey. And with the recent slew of flight interruptions due to weather, I’d say they are listening hopefully, too (note: anyone reading this who happens to be flying soon, we’re praying smooth, on-time arrivals and departures for you).
Just think of all the sounds we hear during the day which our brains conveniently, without fanfare, file away under the file name: ‘nothing to see here.’ Growing up, there was a rail line about a mile from our house. On a very still night it was possible to hear the distant whistle (without listening to it). Also, much nearer, and behind our house, was a boggy area in the woods, and in the spring and summer, I fell asleep many a night to the choir of frogs with an occasional bass note from a bullfrog (again without listening). I’m sure bus drivers and truck drivers don’t listen to the sound of their vehicles. Carpenters and mechanics likely aren’t listening to the sounds of their trade. Children and school students frequently aren’t listening to the voices around them either.
The various Bible translations of John 10:27 employ either the verb ‘hear’ or ‘listen’. I find it more accurate for Jesus to say: “My sheep will listen to my voice and I know each one, and they will follow me.” Hearing random voices with no personal concern as to the actual words or message they contain, prompts them to blur out like Charlie Brown’s teacher’s voice – ‘wa-wah, wa-wah, wa-wah.’ Has any student ever been aware of a droning noise at the front of the classroom, only to have, in the midst of that never-ending barrage/his name called, whereupon acute listening is suddenly engaged (with a rush of adrenaline and slightly elevated heart rate)? In the above passage, Jesus is effectively calling out the Jewish leaders. They have only been hearing his words because they are not his sheep. He brings home the accusation with the startling statement that his sheep listen, and consequently, follow.
The noise we can’t avoid hearing, our brains filter for us. The optional noise is for us to choose to filter, leaving soul-enriching room for listening. A still, small voice is easily drowned out by the din of muchness. Jesus continues to issue the invitation to us to come away with him and learn his unforced rhythms of grace. More tomorrow, at 10 AM, 4 PM. PD